I did not intentionally set out to write two back to back pieces about media depicting women’s wrestling, but sometimes the world has a funny way of introducing themes into your life… Thankfully, this is not a theme I mind at all.
Dangal is a biographical sports drama starring Bollywood sensation Aamir Khan who plays real-life former National Level Indian wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, a man determined to not just relive, but surpass his former glory by winning an International Level Gold via his progeny. As of this writing it is the highest grossing Indian film ever, worldwide (a fact that perked my ears up and made me seek Dangal out on Netflix to see what all the hub-bub was about).This movie could almost be split into two movies. With a runtime of 2 hours and 41 minutes, the first half of Dangal focuses on Mahavir and his girls Babita and Geeta while they are young and the second half on them when they are older (hence the four girls on the poster, it’s the younger and older versions of them, but also works in that Mahavir did end up having four daughters).
It wouldn’t be a sports movie without the training montages, so be prepared for several of them. This is where the movie works in the usual big song and dance numbers expected in a Bollywood production by masking them as training and event montage that show, while original songs that describe what is going on play out. The songs range from decent to good with one that was a bit of a groaner for me. You’ll know it when it plays because it says the same 3 lines over and over and over for what seems like forever. It was the only real time I remember wanting the movie to hurry up and get on with itself. I get it. Your dad is a tough coach.
There are a number of typical underdog sports movie tropes at play here with a few moments that play with expectations, but ultimately deliver on what you expect. However, the acting and physical prowess of the four girls (Suhani Bhatnagar & Sanya Malhotra as young and older Babita & Zaira Wasim and Fatima Sana Shaikhas young and older Geeta) who play Mahavir’s two daughters, along with Mahavir (Aamir Khan) himself, elevate Dangal to a good movie instead of just a decent one.
Unlike most Bollywood films I’ve seen, there are not any out of the place city-wide dance numbers. One dance number is worked in organically in a wedding scene which leads to one of the most dynamic tonal perspective shifts in the film. The scene really hit me. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I believe that as as a foreigner, watching this scene in particular, had a greater impact on me because my life experience and expectations are… well, foreign to the life and accepted social norms of those in India.
Despite some nit-picky flaws, Dangal is a must-watch movie for anyone looking for something with real heart and inspiration. The lengths one would go through for their dreams, the power of a father’s love, overcoming traditions and social expeditions are all major themes strongly weaved throughout.
Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Writers: Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain
Stars: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh