Chak De has been my favourite Bollywood sport movie all these years. Of course, it was over the top, clichéd, sappy and all about the man – we are still in India and it is not yet 2200AD. It had great emotional appeal, aroused national interest in a sport that was nearly dead in the country, had some controlled performances and made for a decent watch. But, Dangal outdid Chak De, by a margin.
Here are 5 reasons why Dangal is the best Bolly sport flick yet, despite the dismissive international reviews:
#1 Aamir Khan
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Aamir Khan is, by far, the best male lead that Bollywood has to offer. It is fortunate that he got the super-stud bug out of his system in the (very) forgettable Dhoom 3. The portrayal of the multi-layered Mahavir Phogat puts him where he deserves to be, at the top of the pile of all male actors in the country. What makes him stand apart, ironically, is the fact that he doesn’t need to be the focus of the movie. Unlike Chak De, or the infinitely worse Sultan, Dangal makes the coach a (somewhat annoying) role-model for the central character (duo), without stealing their spotlight.
#2 The (rest of the) Cast
Let us give our full attention to a whole brigade of fresh, vibrant, exceptional performers that the makers of Dangal have unearthed! Fatima Shaik and Sanya Malhotra (as Geeta and Babita seniors), household names since their chirpy Koffee outing, were phenomenal. Sakshi Tanwar (as Phogat’s wife) and Ayushman’s brother, Aparshakti Khurana (as the supportive cousin) left an indelible impression. Special shoutout to the three kids, Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar (as Geeta and Babita juniors) and Ritwik Sahore (of Ferrari ki Sawari fame), who gave performances well beyond their years.
PS: Looking forward to Zaira’s Secret Superstar, slated to release in 2017
#3 The Sport
I am no connoisseur of wrestling. But, even with my limited exposure, I think it is safe to claim that the portrayal of the sport was on-point. The matches were believable and engrossing. At least for an uninitiated audience, like myself, there was no difference between the scenes in the movie and the matches aired during meets. Almost all sports movies ensure a training of some degree to the protagonists in current Bollywood. But, the precision, shown by the actors in Dangal, speaks to a much higher level of commitment to the sport.
#4 The Storytelling
Many sport biopics, even great ones, often get confused about the depiction of the personal and professional journeys of the protagonists. Case in point are Dhoni and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, both good movies, that could have stitched the story better. Dangal manages to marry the person to the sport seamlessly, keeping the flow of the story unobstructed in every frame.
#5 The Accidental Feminism
This is the point where it gets a little confusing, especially for international audience. Is Mahavir Phogat a feminist that fought for empowerment of his daughters? Or, is he a regressive patriarch who imposed his unfulfilled ambitions (and masculine ego) on the unwilling shoulders of his children? Amidst a battery of hyper-feminist criticism, I found a voice that resonated my feelings in Kahiska Saxena’s Vagabomb article.
Unlike the melodramatic portrayal of feminism in Chak De (remember the grumpy father-in-law), or the preachy patronizing of Pink, Dangal doesn’t try to answer the feminism question overtly!
Of course, Phogat is not a feminist. He is a rural Haryanvi Jat, born before the computers, who happened to wrestle at the national level and wanted a son to inherit his legacy, for crying out loud (please excuse the five hundred stereotypes in that sentence).
Phogat, as the movie beautifully captures, turns out to be an accidental feminist in his pursuit of zealous nationalism (characteristic of every frikkin’ sports movie on the face of the planet). He discovers the immense strength (physical and metaphorical) latent in his daughters and chooses to grow with them. It is a minuscule foothold in the world of feminism – but, I’ll take it. In fact, I find his slow evolution quite realistic and heartening. If the heartless parenting/coaching tactics of Phogat disturbs you, you did not grow up in India, definitely not before Y2K!
Dangal is not going to get us any Oscars, because main-stream Bollywood is not willing to be assessed per global norms of movie-making. It continues to pander to the needs of the mass audience and its love for the Bollywood formulae. But, within the ambit of national cinema, Dangal is definitely a big positive stride forward.
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