Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Aparshakti Khurrana
Direction: Nitesh Tiwari
Even for someone who has never watched a complete wrestling match, ‘Dangal’ is incredibly engrossing. It is as much a story about the sport, as it is about revisiting gender stereotypes and a complex father-daughter relationship.
Nitesh Tiwari has infused this biopic with not only heart-wrenching emotions, but also spontaneous humour. While you marvel at the father’s struggle to make his daughters award-winning athletes, it is the underlying wit that makes this tale eminently watchable.
Mahavir Singh Phogat’s indomitable spirit and his almost audacious ambition to coach Geeta and Babita to glory at the world wrestling stage indeed make for an inspiring story. For these two girls hailing from the Jat heartland, the challenge is not just achieving athletic excellence; it is also about defying accepted social and gender norms to establish themselves as role models.
Young Zaira Wasim as Geeta and Sanya Malhotra as Babita own the first half. Even as you root for the girls as they beat the boys into a pulp at khushti, you also feel sorry for how these young and vulnerable girls almost lose their childhood at the altar of a goal that isn’t even all their own – that of winning a gold medal for the country.
Tiwari, with a stellar cast at his disposal, does a commendable job. Every member of this ensemble cast belts out effortless portrayals. With a runtime of 160 minutes, the film could have been tedious but the screenplay never slackens, the songs are weaved into the narrative and the script keeps the audience hooked.
Once Fatima and Sanya break into the big league and prepare for their first international match, their challenges too change. Can these small-town girls handle the attention at the national level? Is it tough to train with a coach who is not their father and who, quite obviously, has very different goals and expectations of them? Can they then deliver and achieve what they initially set out to?
And then to the piece de resistance – Aamir Khan. The actor with a penchant for perfection nails the role of Mahavir Singh Phogat, the father and the coach. While he comes across as a tyrant at most times, you also see how vulnerable he is as a father. We have all heard about the miraculous physical transformation, the weight gain and the eventual weight loss to enact the part of the young wrestler. While that in itself is awe-inspiring, it is how unbelievably convincing Aamir looks in the part of the older Phogat is what’s truly remarkable. It’s like the actor has internalized the body language and the behaviour of an ageing wrestler obsessed with his daughters’ careers.
This film will rank not only as one of the best of the year, but among the best Hindi films on sports, ever. ‘Dangal’ is the kind of film that manages to invoke nationalistic fervor without descending into jingoism. I found tears trickling down as I spontaneously stood up when the national anthem is played towards the end, as the Tricolour flutters in the stadium on screen.