Dangal – A MediaConnex Film Review
When women wrestle with the world.
Dangal (in English, “Wrestling Competition”) is a Hindi film directed by Nitesh Tiwari under Disney with Aamir Khan Productions. We follow a biographical story of an aging retired wrestler, Mahavir Singh Phogat, played by Aamir Khan, as he struggles to train his daughters to not just fight with male wrestlers in their region, but against male prejudice, entrenched mediocrity, and eventually, international challengers in the Commonwealth Games.
Released during Christmas last year, the movie is a family vehicle, driving parents and their kids to the cinema for a feel-good story of someone who thinks he has lost his dream, only to have it come true in an unexpected way. Aamir Khan gamely portrays the old father, complete with paunch and sagging muscles, finding low-tech solutions to support his girls’ dreams to become top wrestlers.
In some ways it represents all that is good about family — the father looking out for his children; the dutiful wife who does not understand but believes in her husband; and the daughters who obey and honor their sire. In a country where family is a core of their culture and seniority next to godliness, the story is a lesson in upholding all those values.
The story acknowledges that the girls will at some point ask if they have a say in their future, but the scene is quickly resolved when one daughter sees a girl being married off, and peculiarly puts across that a forced choice of wrestling is better than becoming a wife, even when both are still being determined by the father. The character accepts the trade though, and so has an overnight change from resisting training to embracing it.
In the second half of the movie, the pace slows down, and the two and a half hour show feels its length, as more scenes glorify the station of fatherhood, showing the heroic efforts of the man as he pushes his daughters towards the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, in a supposed act of female empowerment glossed on top of patriarchal nationalism.
Why you would want to watch it:
Dangal is a story that pushes the right buttons. It tugs the heartstrings, albeit sometimes too obviously, towards cheering the family to succeed, if at least just to thumb the nose at those who look down on them. Few are immune to an underdog’s suffering, and the art of wrestling teaches the audience a lesson in respecting the basics of your craft to gain mastery, rather than being distracted by flashy techniques.