Dangal wants to have the best of both drama and reality, but ends up being stranded in no man’s land
: It’s not often that the opening credits of a Bollywood film make you smile. Quite early in Dangal, when the names of different production members come on screen, at one point, we see the credit ‘wrestling coordinator’. The name under it is Kripa Shankar Bishnoi, followed by Arjuna Award in brackets. Bishnoi, a coach of the Indian women’s wrestling team, trained Aamir Khan and other actors for the film. It’s heartening to know that Dangal — a film centred on wrestling, detailing the struggles of Indian wrestlers – cares about a real-life wrestler, too, taking an extra step to highlight his achievement. This gesture’s all the more important, because in a country like India, recognition in a sport, other than cricket, is hard to come.
cares about the world it’s set in, achieving much by trying little. When Mahavir Singh Phogat (Khan), a famed wrestler, expecting his second child to be a boy, gets to know that his wife has given birth to a girl, his friend says, “Koi na (it’s okay)” – a more gentle way of saying “shit happens”. It’s a blink-and-miss moment in the film, but at the same time, a much-needed and quiet indictment of patriarchy. When Mahavir’s girls, Geeta and Babita, wear shorts for the first time, so that they can jog easily, they look visibly embarrassed, worried whether their knees are visible. When Mahavir’s wife (Sakshi Tanwar) apologises to him for not giving birth to a son, he says, “Isme teri galti thodi na hai (its not your fault)” This scene, too, is an important moment in the film, because it talks about a certain kind of Indian man, who isn’t a misogynist, but being deeply entrenched in notions of patriarchy, hasn’t come to terms with gender equality, either.
And given Mahavir is played by Khan, a Bollywood star, it’s commendable that he isn’t virtuous by default. Even his ultimate realisation – that girls are no different than boys – seems natural, for it’s rooted in personal desire. “A gold is a gold. How does it matter whether it comes from a girl or a boy?” It’s also impressive that the film doesn’t try to make Mahavir likeable. He doesn’t care about niceties, doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s a hard taskmaster, subjecting his girls, often against their will, to gruelling training, not listening to what they want, taking every measure to ensure they don’t get distracted – even if that means getting their hair chopped, dragging them from a wedding celebration, rebuking them constantly.