Story: When Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir), a wrestler from Haryana, loses hope of having a son, he trains his daughters Geeta (Fatima) and Babita (Sanya) to make wrestling history, thus breaking the taboo of Indian women participating in a sport thus far dominated by men.
In the story department, Dangal offers few surprises because Geeta and Babita’s historic wins at the Commonwealth Games and following championships are common knowledge. However, this screen adaptation serves as a recap of their arduous journey and it vigorously recaptures their stubborn father’s resolve to make them professional wrestlers against the odds. Since it encapsulates the historic wins of the Phogats, who brought India glory, the film is also bound to inspire more women to seriously consider kushti as a sport.
What works wonderfully here is the writing. Director Nitesh Tiwari, along with Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Mehrotra should be complimented for their tongueincheek quality, peppered with humour and several poignant fatherdaughter emotions all through. Of course, a little bit is lost in translation because of the Haryanvi twang. But, messages on our obsession with the male child (prevalent since the dark ages), myopic stand on bringing up our daughters and the administration’s pathetic disposition towards sports, are loud and clear.
It is to the film’s credit that though Geeta and Babita’s wins are documented, it still manages to engage the viewer with the wrestling tournaments and bring patriotic emotions to the fore. Most importantly, Dangal scores with its firstrate performances. An ungainly Aamir (22 kilos heavier) with grey hair is pitchperfect as the ziddi yet sensitive parent. The 51yearold actor should be complimented for experimenting with his roles, unlike his contemporaries who prefer to play safe.
Music director Pritam and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya manage an earthy soundtrack with Daler Mehndi’s title track pumping up the adrenaline. Also, the soft track Gilheriyaan, the Haryanvi rap and hiphop Haanikarak Bapu and the Dhakaad number, are in perfect tandem with the narrative.
Some nearpedestrian bits are offset by the performances. The firsttimers as little girls, and young women learning to gauge their opponent and beating all comers; no silver medals, only gold — all come off well. Tanwar, as Khan’s wife, is a good choice, just familiar enough, and yet new enough. The sole iffy element here is the usually excellent Kulkarni, who plays the ‘official’ coach happy to settle for less, so different from Papa GoForGoldPhogat: he never seems to get his limbs dirty, and spends his time smirking.
But Aamir makes it all right. It wouldn’t have been made if he hadn’t greenlit it, and he brings to it the sincerity of purpose which makes it not just a starry vehicle, but a film which is about something, which has meaning, with a message which doesn’t overwhelm the telling.
It could have easily turned into a vanity project, which is a clear and present danger. It could have been made more polished than required. In places it is stolid, and could have done with some lift, but it is solid all the way through. And, most crucially, it stays real, because the star ratchets it up when required, and lets it go in the rest.