Most of the films, in the sports genre, adhere to a template and the basic plotline of all these films turns out to be largely the same. An underdog from a modest background finds his/her way through success as a sportsperson after going through several highs and lows. Very few films have offered some sort of a novelty as far as the screenplay or the treatment is concerned. Films like ‘Raging Bull’, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘Chak De! India’ come to one’s mind instantly. Earlier, ‘Saala Khadoos’, co-produced by Rajkumar Hirani turned out to be a massive disappointment. The Salman Khan starrer ‘Sultan’ did not really deviate from the usual trappings of a sports film but the treatment of the story was interesting enough for you to invest your time in it. Nitesh Tiwari’s ‘Dangal’, starring Aamir Khan as the patriarch of a family based in a small town in Haryana, tells the story of a wrestler, past his prime, trying to turn his daughters capable enough to win a gold medal for the country.
Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a national level champion in wrestling, has given up on professional wrestling and is working as a government servant. While he put his career as a wrestler behind him so that he could pick up a sort of job and fend for his family, the fact that he could not win a gold medal for the country continues to haunt him. He hopes that after his wife (Sakshi Tanwar) bears a son, he might as well train him to become a wrestler and fulfill his long-standing dream. Much to his disappointment, his wife bears four children, all of whom happen to be girls, in the following years. Though Mahavir loves his daughters, he is upset about the fact that in the absence of a son, he would never be able to realize his dream. One day, when two of her daughters, beat up a bunch of boys all by themselves, Mahavir realizes that his daughters have the potential to become wrestlers. Much to the chagrin of the two little girls, Mahavir starts training them rigorously.
One of the biggest strengths of the film is its authenticity. Right from its sports’ milieu, director Nitesh Tiwari and his team make sure that they get every detail right. After watching the film, you feel as if you have known all these characters for years and you also get an insight into the different techniques wrestlers use while battling it out in the ring. Now the big question, does the film resort to the off-repeated plot devices most sports based films use? Well, it is not difficult to predict what the next scene is going to throw up at you but the overall treatment of the plot gives the film an edge over other films made in this genre. The film has no dearth of scenes which tug at your heartstrings. The scene in which a to-be wed young girl talks to Geeta and Babita and tells them that they are lucky to have a father who, instead of treating them as a burden and wanting to get them married so that he could rid of them, is preparing them to excel in a sport which could open several avenues for them in the future.
Despite a watertight narrative that offered numerous moments, one cannot help but ponder on a few things. Mahavir’s training helps the girls in the long run and they bring laurels for the country. But, is it okay to force children into doing something which they have no interest in? When Mahavir decides to train the girls, they show reluctance and even breakdown when the father takes extreme measures such as forcing the girls to let go of their long hair. Questioning the intent of the father’s actions or inferring that what he did was wrong would mean making the film bereft of its core plot.
If Aamir Khan’s physical transformation inspires us, his performance commands an incredible amount of respect. What is really amazing is that the actor does not show any interest towards hogging the timelight and lets the other actors shine through their parts. In her first major part in a film, Sakshi Tanwar receives a role that does justice to her talent. Along with Aamir, Fatima Sana Sheikh gets the meatiest role as the grown up Geeta Phogat. Apart from delivering an assured performance, she gets the nuances of wrestling right. She holds her own in that terrific scene in which she indulges in a bout with Aamir. Sanya Malhotra is wonderfully restrained as the grown up Babita Phogat. Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar, the two young girls playing the roles of young Geeta and Babita, are remarkably good. Aparshakti Khurana is excellent as the grown up Omkar. Girish Kulkarni, as the NSA coach, plays a detestable character to perfection.
Nitesh Tiwari, who had earlier co-directed ‘Chillar Party’ and directed ‘Bhoothnath Returns’, takes giant strides as a filmmaker with ‘Dangal’. His command over the narrative is commendable. Along with co-writers Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Mehrotra, he writes a screenplay that barely has any loose ends. The songs, composed by Pritam, might not make a huge impression sonically but fit well within the film’s narrative.
‘Dangal’ is a highly engaging and inspiring film that talks about issues in a very subtle manner and sends across a strong message without indulging in chest-thumping, preaching or any kind of self-assertion exercise. This is solid storytelling in a commercial format.