At the beginning of director Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal, a hulking Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan) takes down an equally hulking opponent.
While the gold is at stake on a similar match playing on a tv nearby, the fight is more of a way of reaffirming his repute for the ageing wrestler. As the bulging hero comes out victorious, in a clash of egos where the opponent had no real chance of victory, Dangal gives the viewers an archetypical hero’s introduction, something we haven’t seen in recent Hindi cinemas.
But Phogat is anything but your average hero. He is a disciplinarian with a paunch, a leader and more importantly, the overbearing patriarch of a family of six. The failure of his career may have largely defined him but he still has some fight left in him.
It is a different matter that Phogat tries to seek redemption through his daughters, who one day beat to pulp a neighbourhood kid for eve-teasing. The act of forcing his children to live his own dream and compete for gold may almost be labelled a crime, especially when they are shaped by Phogat’s own ambitions and insecurities.
The real fight in Dangal lies far away from the confinements of the ring.
Like the presence of the father looming large on the lives of the girls, Khan as Phogat has a domineering presence throughout, even when he is not on screen.
In the movie, Geeta and Babita (Fatima Sana Shaikh & Sanya Malhotra) are put to a rigorous training regime by their father. While wrestling may come naturally to the girls despite initial apprehension, they may have to resolve more immediate conflicts to be deemed victorious.
In a way, Dangal is a biopic on the Phogat sisters, who each won gold at the Commonwealth Games. But the journey towards their respective success (depending on who you emphatise with) touches upon such myriad themes that they are more relevant than the glorification of their victory.
While Mahavir’s decision of training his daughters for wrestling is in itself radical, especially in the hinterlands of Haryana where the movie is based, it also has significant repercussions on the impressionable girls. Whether it is the identity crisis they develop (they are forced to cut their hair) or the act of having to compete against their father (in a striking clash of egos, again) in field or the fact that they have had no say in their future, Dangal is packed with moments of real conflicts and victories while exploring the father-daughter dynamics in an ever strenuous environment of morning jogs, tiring fight sessions and diets.
The screenplay sometimes struggles to balance this conflict with the acutal fight but the performance are top-notch. Like the presence of the father looming large on the lives of the girls, Khan as Phogat has a domineering presence throughout, even when he is not on screen. And what maybe a masterstroke on the part of the writers, Dangal completely does away with the jingoism often attached to sports-themed movie and instead brilliantly turns the post-victory celebration into a personal moment of elation for Phogat.
While there maybe no clear winner in the clash of egos, freedom and ambitions, Dangal is a winner.