Dangal is about one man’s obsession with winning a wrestling gold medal for his country on the international stage. Having lost the opportunity himself he plans to fulfill the same through his offspring. His single minded obsession is what drives the movie from start to finish. Played by Aamir Khan, Mahavir Singh Phogat is a force to reckon with, willing to wrestle anyone at the drop of a hat. “He left wrestling, but wrestling never left him” voices the narrator.
The first half of the movie takes place in the Indian heartland of Haryana. Director Nitesh Tiwari creates a vibrant village life that makes for compelling viewing. The film achieves a rich earthy look that pulls you directly into mud wrestling and leaves you envying the luxuries of rolling in mud. Coupled with a screenplay that is peppered with village humor, the film endears and entertains. The film finds it feet, when Phogat who is blessed with four daughters while trying for a male child all along, realizes that he can achieve his dream through his daughters. “A gold medal is a gold medal, irrespective of gender”, he states and begins to train the eldest two daughters in wrestling. Counterpoint to Phogat’s obsession is the village which declares him a madman when they see the lengths he is willing to go for his dream. The film hits serious notes on women empowerment and the general attitude towards sports in the country.
Much has been said about Aamir’s physical transformation for the role, but its the range of emotions he displays that standout. In the quieter moments of the film he reasons with his wife (a subdued Sakshi Tanwar), acts on his paternal instincts and pleads with higher authorities and as coach there is no wavering or holding back. In a movie about obsession, great effort and pain has been taken to make the wrestling seem authentic. And the results are superb! Filmed in medium to close shots with the camera always circling the ring, you hear the actors (or should we say athletes) panting and grunting, the screeches on the wrestling mats, clawing, slaps, body slams, etc. No doubt about it, you feel spectator to real matches. Credit to the four actresses (Fatima Sana Shaikh, Zaira Wasim, Sanya Malhotra, Suhani Bhatnagar) playing the elder two Phogat sisters at their various stages for not only handling the physicality but also the emotional demands of the role.
The second half has a few missteps as the screenplay goes for over dramatization. As per my research not all the plot in the second half is factually true and you sense it. More importantly it seems that the writers lose track of the soul in the story; which is the elder Phogat. To prove my point (PLOT SPOLIER AHEAD), the final match is presented as a cliffhanger when in reality Geeta Phogat won it comfortably. Why the writers felt it necessary to yield to a sports movie cliche is beyond me. However, consider this; for the final match they have Mahavir locked away, again factually untrue but this choice works. There was no need to show the final match at all; we know the history. If the camera had stayed with Phogat in the room with no cut backs to the match, the audience would get a better sense of his anxiety. It would build tension and the emotional release when the Indian national anthem finally plays would have paid off with much better effect.
There are some who question Phogat’s intentions and whether he is right in marrying of his daughters to wrestling; citing Aamir Khan’s earlier movies Taare Zameen Par (2007) and 3 Idiots (2009) which are a voice against such parenting. I’d say parenting is subjective and in this case Phogat is right. He goes about it in the right way, demanding a year to prove his point and more importantly believing in his daughters. He declares, “they have wrestling in their blood” and I wager he would wrestle even God to prove it.