Get this right away. Never you mind the familiarity of its
theme (triumph against the fierce odds on the wrestling front in the vein of
Sultan), the spoiler alert contained intrinsically in the story chiselled from
real-life events, the often avoidable use of slow-mo and the taxing running length
of 2 hours-41 minutes. These negatives can be overlooked.
Because, here’s a wonderfully crafted, acted and narrated must-experience on the big wide screen. The audacious biopic is engrossing and moving (only Ram Madhvani’s Neerja and Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh compare to Dangal this year), and above all invites you to care about its humaneness and credibly etched central characters, thereby stirring your emotional reserves.
Indeed, only the boulder-hearted are likely to be left unmoved by Dangal co-written and directed by Nitesh Tiwari. Quite a surprise packet this, coming from Tiwari who can be inconsistent (he co-directed the eminently likeable children’s film Chillar Party and then solo helmed the just about theekh-thaak Bhoothnath Returns).
Evidently master-minded by actor-producer Aamir Khan, the bio-saga lionises the former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat who coached his daughters -- Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra) towards triumph at the female wrestling bouts at the Commonwealth Games of 2010. Female is the key-word here. Depicting the prejudice against young women from a smalltown of Haryana who venture into an arena traditionally associated with macho pahelwans, clearly advances the portrayal of women who justly refuse to be subjugated in our mainstream movies.
“Maari chhoriyan chhoron se qam hai kya,” ( “Are my girls inferior to any boy?”), boasts a father who had once longed for a male child to continue the kushti tradition. The belated awareness about gender parity dawns on Mahavir Singh when his daughters, during their growing up years, demonstrate that they won’t tolerate any bullying from the village boys.
Ensues a high drama punctuated with resilience, tension, societal pressures of the chauvinistic kind, grappling with the sports Establishment and nail-biting combats which push you to the edge of the seat. Inevitably, there are stretches detailing the rigorous training of the girls bound for glory (mandatory for sports films ranging from the Sylvester Stallone Rocky series to Chak De India!, Sultan and more) Yet these are so authentically recreated that you’re hooked.
Covering a span of decades, the screenplay showcases Mahavir Singh as a lean machine in his bygone combative days to the paunchy father on a mission near-impossible. That Aamir Khan added kilos galore to his frame to get the physical look of his character right, is just one facet of his strenuously methodic, Haryanvi diction-accented and implosiveness, all of which add up to a terrific tour de force performance. Newcomers Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra are nuanced, conveying a semblance of vulnerability despite their tenacious exteriors. As their mother, Sakshi Tanwar, fits in with the supporting ensemble perfectly. The child artistes enacting Jr.Geeta and Jr Babita, Zaira Hasim and Suhani Bhatnagar, are nothing short of brilliant.
Frankly, the mandatory background songs composed by Pritam are obtrusive at points. The background score, however strident it may be, is still quite mood-enhancing. Undoubtedly, the alternately bright and low-lit cinematography is one of the film’s assets. Ditto the production design and costumes.
From the look of things, Dangal must have been a difficult enterprise both in its writing and execution. Passages from Phogat’s true story have been subtracted and others highlighted. Fair enough.
Any which way, this film of sinew and substance from the Bollywood arena concludes the year with one helluva knockout. You don’t need a recommendation from me or anyone else: just see.