Sushant Singh Rajput's Dhoni And Aamir Khan's Dangal: Lockdown Blues Chasers Part 53

Here's revisiting two remarkable sports dramas in the 53rd edition of our Lockdown Blues Chasers. Aamir Khan's Dangal and Sushant Singh Rajput's Dhoni.

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Sushant Singh Rajput's Dhoni And Aamir Khan's Dangal: Lockdown Blues Chasers Part 53
Dangal(2016):  This is a film so  rich in the flavours of homegrown emotions you feel you are floating in a field of aromatic sensation for close to three hours without feeling manipulated . You come away from this experience so moved and so much wiser that you wonder why cinema can’t be so rewarding more often. But then again, if every other film was a Dangal how would we know the difference?

On the surface it is another  rags-to-riches sports film where a girl Geeta Phogat  from a small dusty town of Haryana brings the gold medal in wrestling to India.

No. It is not the theme. It’s in the heartbreaking directness and artlessness,the absolute absence of artifice, in  the narrative that we discover that mysterious oft-abused entity known as the Real India. These are places and people with real dreams and ambitions. These are characters whom we live with ,sometimes within ourselves. It takes a Mahavir Singh Phogat and his mulish obstinacy to pull India’s perverse patriarchy dragging kicking and screaming out of its heavily cordoned lair and to say, enough is enough.

It takes an Aamir Khan to bulk up to the extent of looking like a tired but undefeated has-been to play the wrestler whose determination saw his daughters break through the masculine bastion of wrestling to prove women can do anything men can.Aamir lives the role of Phogat, sternly manoeuvering his daughters’ destiny to a glory denied to a lot of women in this country.Is this his best performance? Can’t say,whatever he has done earlier pales into insignificance.

Significantly , Dangal doesn’t play the feminist card at all. There are no speeches tirades and pushy homilies on feminism. The men in fact are not shown to be excessively sexist for the sake of aggrandizing the dramatic impact of girls’ ultimate victory. While Aamir Khan plays the epitome of gender equality   Aparshakti Khurrana who plays Geeta and Babita Phogat’s goofy kind-hearted cousin is a feminist even without  knowing what the word means.
And Sakshi Tanwar who plays Aamir’s quietly capable wife blends  so beautifully into the film’s finely-threaded fabric that we hardly  notice her.Ditto all the characters who appear to be so in-tune with the milieu they seem born to the soil.

No one in the cast and crew —not even the eternal attention-seeker Aamir Khan and  not  Sethu Sriram’s cinematography—seeks attention here.Not even when fighting so ferociously in the wrestling akhaada. These people do what they have to.They fight inner and outer adversaries because….well, they are there and they must be fought.

Dangal neatly and nimbly avoids all classifications and isms and emerges as one of the strongest cinematic statements on women’s empowerment in recent times. The performances go a long way in imbuing a sense of unrehearsed classicism to the simple tale of a simple  father who  lives out his sporting dreams through his daughters.

As simple as that.

And such doughty daughters! The two sets of actresses who play the younger and older versions of Geeta and Babita  Phogat are so liberating in their spontaneity that they at some point , cease to draw attention to their skills at   character assumption and simply invite us to follow the girls’ journey to victory.

While the younger Phogat daughter Babita  played ably by Suhani Bhatnagar and Sanya Malhotra does have her say in the expansive script,  this is clearly the other elder daughter Geeta’s story , her blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with her father and her ultimate triumph in the wrestling ring.

Aamir and  Zarina Wasim/Fatima Sana Shaikh(the two girls who play Geeta) play against each other with vivacious credibility. While we watch Geeta wrestle her way to the gold medal—and she fights her opponents in the wrestling ring like a true pro—we also watch Geeta and her father wrestle in ways that are not manifested physically.

Geeta’s change as she becomes famous is mapped with no judgemental regret. This is not a film that wastes time trying to slot judge or condemn human failings. It breathes with the characters and lets them exhale at their own will. That  is the real beauty of Dangal. It is what it is not because it tries to be great  but because the story it has to tell is  effortlesly ensconced in excellence. Director Nitish Tiwari simply plucks the fruits of a  tree  whose roots go deep into our culture penetrating societal biases towards the girl child, with a cluck of  the tongue that is barely audible.

The climactic wrestling bout shot with adrenaline-pumping immediacy could have avoided reducing Geeta’s coach to  a scheming villain. Neither the film nor  Aamir Khan’s timeless portrayal  of Mahavir Phogat needed to be propped up and peppered with scriptural spice.

On the whole Dangal has no patience with judgement values. It is so precious and so valuable because it lets us look at home-truths with wisdom rather than cunning.This film will be remembered by posterity as one of the landmarks of Indian cinema , not because it tries to be one.

Thank you Geeta Phogat,Nitesh Tiwari, Aamir Khan. India is proud of you.Phogat’s sake, Dangal must be watched.

Dhoni :  The  Untold Story(2016):  There is a moment of reckoning in Dhoni’s life when getting on that moving train  would mean the difference between life and stillness. That metaphorical moment when Sushant Singh Rajput ,playing Dhoni as though by birthright,jumps on that train , shot with astute honesty and gritty resplendence by Santosh Thundiyil, is so brilliant in capturing the moment that changes a life from ordinary to something extra,that greedily one waits for more such moments in the vast stretches of storytelling that occupy Dhoni The Untold Story.

First things first. There is nothing ‘Untold’ in this 3 hour-plus sprawling paean to one of the most iconic cricketers of our times. All we see for what seems like an eternity of playing-time are scene after scene from Dhoni’s life and career. All these incidents have been in the public domain for as long as we can remember.

Dhoni The,ahem, Untold Story goes through the cricketer’s life chapter by chapter. This is not a film. It’s a book. A biography masquerading as a film.So prosaic that it makes the poetry in the songs played in the background, seem redundant.This is an authorized biography, if you will, since the Legend himself imprints his signature on every frame, and that includes the actor who plays Dhoni on screen.

Sushant Singh Rajput  is so ferociously correct in assuming Dhoni’s personality you wonder how he got so much  feeling into the batting . But more about his virtuoso performance later.

What gets our attention immediately is the eye for elaborate detailing of the biographical figures’ emotional and geopolitical status. Director Neeraj Pandey and his co-writer Dilip Jha ransack every nook and corner of Dhoni’s lifescape in pursuit of the demi-god who played the field as though he owned it . From his childhood escapades as an accidental cricketer to his triumph during the World Cup, Dhoni is projected  as  an icon with almost no flaws.

There is a scene where Dhoni’s wife-to-be (Kyra Advani) who doesn’t know who DHONI is(ha ha ha) asks her room-mate about him. ‘He’s very hot,’ the friend sighs in her sleep .That friend embodies the film’s team. Awestuck,adulatory sighing and oohing over the cricket icon’s quirks and whims as though Mother Teresa has been reborn on the playing field.This is not a bio-pic.It’s a 3-hour Bhajan .

Say hello to the halo , then. And if you are looking for the dirt under the finger-nails …then you are in for a disappointment. This is a celebration of Dhoni’s legendary status in the boldest strokes…pun intended.  The sprawling but comprehensive and at times compelling plot takes us on a journey that spills with enthusiasm and brio—thanks mainly to Sushant’s bright and measured interpretation of Dhoni—but devoid of any surprises.

Some of what is seen to be a sign of the man’s greatness comes across as extremely strenuous attempts to reinforce the haloed argument. A sequence in a hotel room where Dhoni greets an old friend warmly is supposed to reveal how ‘normal’ the icon remained  even after his fame. But life teaches you that it is the peripheral people who “make” a star.And this is the subtext that lifts this eulogistic bio-pic to a believable level.

The ‘supporting’ characters—the ones who saw recognized acknowledged and encouraged Dhoni’s genius—are all brilliantly played  by actors who seem to understand the dying art of  selfless devotion.Mention must be made of Anupam Kher, Kumud Mishra and Rajesh Verma.Ever the reliable troopers , they turn their cramped spaces into middlclass homes and hearts,  into rooms with a view into the soul.Unknown actors playing Dhoni’s pals in Ranchi are heartwarmingly earnest. Dost ho to aisa!

A  sizeable portion of the commodious plot is devoted to Dhoni’s two love relationships,one of them leading to marriage.  It’s debutant Disha Patani who as Dhoni’s lost love, lights up every frame she gets to be in. Her death ought to have been a devastating moment in the narrative. Regrettably the breakdown after her death as he sobs in the middle of a busy road,is the only sequence that Sushant  plays unconvincingly. He is otherwise on a firm wicket, playing out Dhoni’s aspirations on an even pitch, imbuing warmth credibility and authenticity to Dhoni’s persona. Sushant’s  physical transformation displaying different stages of Dhoni’s life is astonishing.

What would Dhoni The Untold Story have been without Sushant Singh Rajput?What would Dhoni the man and the legend, have been without his family and friends? As is the won’t in bio-pics the marginal characters remain shadowy .The women including Dhoni’s very supportive sister(played by Bhoomika Chawla) are shown to be precluded from the main drama.As though a feeble understandaing of the nuances of cricket makes them the weaker sex.One of the wives of a Bengali cricket coach is either shown buying fish or offering tea to her husband as he cheers his protégé’s performance on live television.

Dhoni The Untold Story is an extremely clever amalgamation of two favourite national past times: cricket and patriotic jingoism. Director Neeraj Pandey adopts the voice of a serial director, going through episode after episode in Dhoni’s life with reverence .

The Untold Story , some other time.

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