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Dangal‘s biggest draw is also its biggest flaw. Yet for once, a star’s power and a man’s ego is put to good use.

Aamir Khan plays Mahavir Singh Phogat, an Indian amateur wrestler and coach who trained six girls from his family to wrestle against all odds. Oldest daughter Geeta won India’s first ever gold medal in women’s wrestling in 2010 Commonwealth Games. Second daughter Babita (55 kg) and niece Vinesh (48kg) won golds in women’s freestyle category in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Third daughter Ritu is a gold medal winner of a national championship. Fourth daughter Priyanka and second niece Sangita are medalists in age-level international championships.

Journalist Rudraneil Sengupta in his book, Enter The Dangal, puts Mahavir’s gold medal dream into perspective with a question to the girls: What if all six of them land up in the same competition one day, and all of them finish with medals?
‘Let that be the Olympics!’ Babita is thrilled with the idea. It has occurred to her before.
‘Well, perhaps not all six. Let’s say three,’ Geeta says. ‘Now that’s not fantasy—that can happen in Rio.
‘Yes, and then papa will finally say…’ Now Babita makes her voice heavy and manly: ‘Fine, not bad. Now you can rest a little.’

Mahavir was inspired by his coach, Chandgi Ram, who saw potential in 1997 for Indian women wrestling, the year of its inclusion in Olympics, and convinced his daughters Sonika and Deepika Kaliraman to join. Chandgi’s center was the first to train women in wrestling. “Masterji opened my eyes”, Mahavir told Sengupta in 2014. “He used to tell me, what you are doing for your girls, you will see one day that it will bring you great happiness.”

Chandgi Ram was right. Mahavir Singh Phogat is not only happy but also famous today. His life is a big-budget movie and he is closer to realising his coach’s dream of seeing more women wrestle internationally: “Give it another ten years. And people will forget that they ever resisted women in wrestling. Look, already this year at the Commonwealth Games (2014), India won 65 medals; 49 of those were won by women.”

And, so, in an immensely gratifying, nail-biting climax, director Nitish Tiwari hands over the baton to Fatima Sana Sheikh who puts up a glorious fight all by herself to bring home the coveted gold. Captured in a stunning slow motion movement, the emotionally charged moment is absolutely mesmerising.

Fatima Sana Sheikh

This is where Aamir relinquishes his star power and Mahavir surrenders his ego to let a woman find for herself that she is capable of completing a fight on her own.

It was the real key to Dangal and the message it sends out to aspiring girls.

You will encounter egos and obstacles on your path, you may second guess yourself, you feel it can’t be done alone. Focus and persevere, nevertheless. Face the moment head on when it arrives, let courage rear its head and you will fly.

Wrapped in a delightful, semi-commercial package, Dangal fictionalises some elements to make the story entertaining and relevant to its target audience.

The opening credits show male wrestlers proudly displaying their wares. Pretty much how life plays out for women in male-dominated fields. It is hard to spot a fellow female until one woman does, and others follow.

The first half captures the awkward journey of teenage women training, competing and winning fights in an all-male arena aptly with a lot of heart, warmth and humour.

Zaira Wasim (left) and Suhani Bhatnagar

Mahavir (Aamir Khan) longs for a boy to carry his gold dream forward until he realises gender has nothing to do with winning a medal. He spots wrestling potential in daughters Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar) and decides to train them. Despite protests from wife Daya Shobha Kaur (Sakshi Tanwar), people and surroundings, he persists with a seemingly impossible vision. The girls, initially hesitant, soon realise their own aptitude and develop a taste for victory in the akhada.

Post interval, we see Geeta (Fatima Sana Sheikh) losing her drive and focus, then finding her way back to win gold backed by father Mahavir and younger sister Babita (Sanya Malhotra).

On the surface, the movie appears male egocentric especially since it is Mahavir’s story and he appears to push the girls more as a father and less as coach. One crucial scene and tender moment does take care of that beautifully when he presses their feet after a hard day’s practice. You may argue that an ambitious father is pushing his dreams on his children but it is also rare to find folks who recognise and nurture talent.

Anyhoo, scratch a bit deeper and you see the sporting world unravel with its failures and frustrations. Geeta steers away from her goals when trivial cosmetic pursuits and key technique changes causing a crucial loss of her natural fighting instincts.

A big tick for the consistent and magnificent performances. Sakshi Tanwar shines in a small, supporting part. So do Rohit Shankarwar and Aparshakti Khurana who play the younger and older version of the male cousin (he helps the girls practice).

Aamir Khan raises the bar once more to give another superlative performance. Wonderfully understated and believable in his most macho role yet, his interpretation sees Mahavir as externally potent and internally charged. His acting rests purely on body language with lesser baritone and drama, enhancing the impact. His weight adds to the silent, rustic charm. This, despite taking a backseat in terms of his screen time – he is driving the show but his daughters live their wrestling bouts.

Without a doubt, you find yourself rooting for the girls all the way.

Charming duo Suhani Bhatnagar (young) and Sanya Malhotra (adult) play the supporting sister Babita with simple flair and humour. Both are excellent.

Zaira Wasim plays the younger Geeta effectively well. Her visual, external change from femininity to the masculine world is poignant. Her mannerisms and her body language go through a complete transformation as she faces her first failure and then hungers for victory. Superb!

As older Geeta, Fatima Sana Sheikh gets to showcase more acting chops which she does with great elan. Adorable as an elf when she starts displaying her instinct for girly things. Effective when she gets cocky and absorbs the big city attitude. You sense her failure and frustration as a sports person in a flicker or a frown. It’s a gold class performance.

Count among other bright spots Sethu Sriram’s stunning cinematography and Pritam’s quirky music with the forceful Dangal, rumbling Haanikarak Baapu, inspirational Dhaakad, freeing Gilehriyaan and an emotional Naina.

As for the inevitable weak links, Dangal does feel a tad long with a run-time of 160 minutes even though it fully holds your attention. Plus it paints a black-and-white picture of issues faced by women and offers an overly simplified solution – choose career over marriage to avoid chulhachauki. The real Geeta got married recently and we hope she still has the best of both worlds.

Still Nitish Kumar fully succeeds in giving us a winning female protagonist in a male-dominated surrounding and on a world arena. In turn, delivering an all-important message with conviction: Gold toh gold hota hai, chhora laave ya chhori.

I contemplated four stars but feel it deserves a five purely because, hey, the girl is left alone to tackle and win her glory moment in the climax despite Aamir Khan. That itself is worth many more stars.

cinemaspotter rating: 5 out of 5

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