Why Dangal Is A Much Needed Movie For Indian Cinema

Posted: December 29, 2016

Dangal is a much-needed breath of fresh air in Indian cinema with its ageing heroes romancing young heroines.

Profound wisdom emanates from the simpler moments of life, when one halts for a moment and changes perspective. So is the case when a 14-year old bride says to the disgruntled daughters of Mahavir Singh Phogat, “Your father at least takes an interest in you. He accepts your existence and is striving to give your life a shape worthy enough of dignity.”

That is enough to awaken in the daughters a renewed zeal to follow the drill and agonizingly disciplined regime their father has set for them.

Indian cinema needed this Dangal for so many reasons! We will digress for a while but well, I am inundated with so many thoughts that each reason can make a blog post in itself.

The Indian male protagonist is so self-centered to date that very rarely do we see him allowing himself to look anything less than perfect. He always wants to be in command and if possible, present in every frame right till the end. His real age notwithstanding, he is the epitome of eternal youth. He has to romance beauties half his age. He has to win and if he cannot, he will use his progeny to break his bones to near death (Apne, remember?) There are long drawn guilt trips for the poor unsuspecting progeny and ultimately a grander end.

Cut to Dangal. (Spoiler alert ahead)
We have a National Wrestling Champion, mired in financial difficulties, living in a regret-filled silence; regret at not able to continue his wrestling journey and not getting a gold at an international level. His desire, “My son will continue my legacy!”, is squashed as he has four girls.
There are no loud complaints and neither is he ignoring his girls. In fact he says, “I love them but they cannot fulfill my wish.”  A silent acceptance of fate as he puts away all his medals. Did I forget to tell you, it was, and is Aamir Khan?

Aamir Khan has certainly changed the definition of what a mainstream ‘hero’ is. The silent, pigheaded, doggedly determined father who lets criticism simply go, unaffected. I had to remind myself, it is Aamir Khan who was Mahavir Singh Phogat! (Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan ought to actually take a leaf out of his book and well, just take a cue!)

Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat is so adorable with this big paunch and Haryaanvi dialect. There is a very simple equation with his wife, Daya Kaur played by Sakshi Tanwar – “I don’t understand your decisions but…”  and he requests “Ek saal de de munne…”

Aamir dominates the screen as the father with an ambition… a father with a vision; a father with an iron hand at discipline and yet, one who is willing to change perspectives. I too wish to say “Kaash ye mere Pappa hote…”

Another reason why Indian Cinema needed this Dangal

It is a Dangal of sorts for its perspective on the girl-boy paradigm. What they can or cannot do or rather, what we think ‘they can or cannot do’!  Again from deeper disappointment and little moments, the mindset changes in a father who is living in a very orthodox, rural set up.

A man who goes about declaring “Pehelwaani khoon me hoti hai…” is willing to do a gleeful roundabout for his pehelwaan  girls. He is still within this stereotype zone when he hits his nephew for hitting other boys and a few mangled kids stand up complaining. The glee on his face when he asks his girls, “Kaise maara?” is priceless. That is the moment when a perspective emerges within that “Girls can get a gold medal too!”
Those moments are now priceless for me. I wish my parents too had a chat of this nature when I stood on the threshold of adulthood and fought to continue my studies post graduation. I did have my way but not without arguments and heartache. The reason? “A Groom that educated will be scarce.” Well…
At this moment when the father decides to enroll his girls in his strict wrestling course, they have no clue of what awaits them. But the girl in me so rejoiced at the turnaround of a Dad to prepare his girls for a robust future with the full faith that they can. The perspective shift is so apparent in every scene that shreds misogyny to pieces.
Sometimes the excuses given are the same as the very reasons cited by girls who would cry foul when growing up and ask for liberation. “We cannot run in salwaar kameez!” is not only the rant of those two girls but also so many in the nation.
He silently asks for his nephew’s clothes and hands them over to his wife to alter them to suit the girls.

“Our hair becomes filthy and we are facing trouble!” They complain.
So he decides, “Chop it off!” much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the girls who meant it as an excuse.

While it is the father’s ambition determined to cut out all reasons, the very tenets of misogyny are questioned in an eloquent way. Should raiment or curls determine someone’s worth or do we get overly attached to these external standards and judgments? It is time to remove our strict adherence to these norms, strip the long held beliefs and ask, “How are girls or boys any different in spirit?”
In movies like Mary Kom and Saala Khadoos, while pointing out the hard work, there was a tendency to overdo and dramatize to the point of making it sound unrealistic. It made one feel that only those who are made of steel or a different material may be capable. Not me or you or my children or yours. Indian Cinema needs a Dangal to demonstrate how from scratch, a sportsperson is molded out of sheer diligence and vision.
Another endearing aspect of this pigheaded dad was his inability to get into long drawn educational or preachy monologues. Simply, “This needs to be done!” Making the girls sing “Sehat ke liye Baapu Haanikarak he…” or bringing in his nephew to fight them, gets them going even though his vision escapes them. Awareness dawns again in the most misogynistic situation of a child marriage; the very marriage ceremony of their friend that they so happily scamper to. Against their father’s wishes, they celebrate, oblivious to the hurt, despair and disappointment so vividly written on the bride’s face.
The girls’ complaints finds a counter argument in the bride’s comment, “I so wish he was my father, he acknowledges your existence atleast, thinks about you. Else for a father, a girl is only a burden to be married at the earliest.” Both the girls find their existential purpose in that vulnerable moment of despair from a girl who knows her identity is to be vanquished and she will be a machine henceforth to churn out kids and run the household impeccably.
That is the Dangal quotient of a mindset shift… from one girl to another. My destiny could be different if there was a father like yours, “Value it!”

The father too ups the challenge by getting them to compete with men, an unheard of faith in this context, but the faith of a father nevertheless! He eggs them on to join a tournament where they are underweight but encourages in every round. No word of criticism is ever uttered if a round is lost; only wisdom accrued over the years: “She is overcoming the fear.” He empathizes with their woes and enters quietly to soothe their aching muscles.
The latter part of the movie sees the ‘Dangal’ of will, technique and discipline. It also raises questions on our sporting system which lacks the inimitable will and zeal for the players they train.When a player loses a round, instead of boosting their morale, there is derision and deprecation. No wonder India loses out on the ‘winners’ zone! When coaches have no faith, where will the players borrow it from? That is succinctly displayed in the short zone when the daughter moves to NSA for international training and is introduced to temptations.

The growing of hair or using nail paint or eating golgappa hitherto forbidden may bring in a sense of liberation but took away the steely edge from her disposition that was carefully inculcated by a father who had been through the rigour and knew what it entailed. She comes back to the village with new know-how and duels with her mentor to defeat him. Maybe it was her rebellious angst all those years, but the younger daughter echoes, “He lost out of weakness not technique..”
However, here begins the downfall of Geeta (played by Fatima Sana Shaikh) who loses all international tournaments while Babita (played by Sanya Malhotra) wins her national championship. While the dad knew their strengths and built on it, the coach focused on Geeta’s weaknesses and destroyed her will. A debate may arise between liberation and discipline. Was the father correct in imposing his ways on his unsuspecting daughters to meet his ambitious goals? His tender girls sure toughened up and created History for the nation! Does the end justify the means?
All I would add is that when you do not have your own dreams, you might as well embrace another one’s who directs and channelizes the persona into someone worthwhile to reckon with. He did make them a force to look up to! So an angry Geeta leaves her father ‘s stringent domain to enjoy a more liberated one, to learn a valuable lesson. When we chart out on special journeys, the vision of the mentor counts. He had not cut their curls out of a desire for male dominance. It was a well planned construct to keep obstacles at bay and aid their workout progress.
A series of defeats and Babita’s presence binds the gap and gets the father to again take up his girl’s six month old coaching. If they cannot be accepted in the akhaada, he makes one…! If he cannot get leave, he leaves his job…again deeply entrenched misogyny spelled out loud and clear in the derisive words of the employer, “If it was your daughter’s wedding I would consider… for Wrestling practice, no way!”
The final match was a treat. The dangal between the sure confidence of a father and insecurity of the coach was worth pondering over. The father indignantly gives it to the coach, “You are asking Sehwag to be Dravid…Instead of her strengths, you are looking elsewhere.”  His tearful declaration to the panel, “I have dreamed of my daughters getting a Gold for the country” is heart rending.

Kudos to a Movie that might go on to become a classic for us like Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots. It is a grounded effort par excellence. Indian cinema needed Dangal for all these reasons and many more.

For Indian movies to move out of thinking that domestic violence and marital abuse and rapes are just maladies that women go through!

For Indian movies to stop thinking that a woman is attractive only when she sways her hips in little clothing. For Indian movies to stop thinking that a man has to have six pack abs and is needed always to rescue a woman from dire circumstances in the form of a father or husband.

For Indian movies to stop thinking that giving up one’s career for a man is the ultimate sacrifice and aim of a woman.
For Indian movies to believe that mature stories can be told of a father’s faith. For Indian movies to believe that stereotypes do not have to be nurtured but challenged.
I am too old to say “Kaash vo mere pappa hote!”  but a fantastic father he portrayed. For those two hours I lived a different life and shall want to soak in again…another five times perhaps!
All images are Youtube screenshots

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