Sunday 25 December 2016

Dangal ... Wrestling with two themes

SPORTS biopic Dangal could have been an engrossing film about how a small town girl overcame
societal pressure and gender discrimination to win India's first-ever wrestling gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. It's based on the true story of Geeta Phogat, who became the first Indian female wrestler to qualify for the Olympics.
    But when you have Aamir Khan producing the Nitesh Tiwari-directed film and starring as Geeta's former national wrestling champion father, Mahavir Singh Phogat, your loyalty, and focus in the film, will be divided.
  Nitesh walks a tightrope in exhibiting the star power of Aamir and showing how Geeta struggles with the temptations of Delhi's night life, including a Shah Rukh Khan film, to win a gold medal for her nation.
   If Nitesh wrestled with these two competing themes, it does not show in the film. The film is a pure star vehicle for Aamir, who does a Raging Bull turn by going from muscular to fat for a film. Visions of Salman Khan doing the same thing in Sultan must have gone through Aamir's mind during filming.
   Thus, the film loses its focus by shifting between Geeta and Mahavir, when it should have stayed on the former. Heck, even his absence from one of her matches is given a heavy-handed dramatic feel.
Whatever Salman (right) does, I can do better. 
   The film, however, does have an uplifting message for women, in particular those in India. A 14-year-old girl tells the young Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and her sister Babita Kumari (Sanya Malhotra) that she's envious of them as she's doomed to a life of conceiving children and taking care of them and her husband. 
  At the start, Mahavir harbors hopes of producing a wrestler son who can bring glory to India on the international stage. His wife gives birth to four daughters, and all seems lost, but he channels his vigour and passion through Geeta and Babita, who, after initially resisting his demands, give in to his insistence.
   The first part of the film proceeds without tension. Things change in the second half (spoiler ahead) when the adult Geeta, who has been taken in by city life, make-up and a boastful coach, faces off with her father in the same rustic pit where he had trained her. He sees her and his gold medal dream slipping away from him, and she sees him as the person who has controlled her for a long time.
   This made me stand up and take notice, but the flip-flop between Geeta and Mahavir takes viewers
Scenes from 'Dangal'. Fatima Sana Shaikh will rock viewers.
nowhere. Maybe I should just throw in the towel, but salvation comes in the form of Geeta's matches at the Commonwealth Games. 
   I take my hat off to Fatima, the fight choreographer and the film editor, who together keep us on the
edge of our seats during Geeta's matches. I found myself gripping the armrest, even though I knew that Geeta would eventually come out on top.
   Dangal shows viewers that women can beat the odds to succeed in society, but an overbearing daddy like Aamir's will remind viewers who's the real champion in the film.

3 out of 5 stars


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