The setting is Haryana, a state with one of the worst sex ratios in India today. Where khap panchayat is stronger than most courts or governments. Patriarchal to an extent that most villages do not have brides for their gabru jawans (young men), since most girls get killed in their mother’s wombs. And to think that in such a society, a guy dreamt of making his daughters sporting heroes is somewhat surreal. Add to that the traditionally male dominated sport of wrestling and one might say in Haryanvi “Bawla hai key!”
But then that is what defines a true wrestler. Not the daav or the wrestling move that he throws in the ring but the fights that he withstands in real life. And Mahavir Phogat is one such persona. Played by the perfectionist Aamir Khan, as a budding wrestler he's forced to give up his dream of winning a gold medal for his nation, due to his poor economic condition and absolute apathy from a system which wants athletes but won’t nurture one. However he keeps his fire burning and dreams that one day his son will do what he couldn’t. In fact the fire burns so wild in him that he sires four daughters in his quest for a son! Not to mention the ‘friendly tips’ he gets from the entire village on how to father a son. But when all his efforts to produce a patriarchal heir go in vain, Mahavir resigns himself to fate and a boring life until a scuffle that his girls get into changes his life.
Looking at the manner in which his girls have thrashed the neighborhood male pranksters, Mahavir realises the fact that achieving a dream, is all that matters. Putting a gender stereotype to a dream is in fact insulting it. After all the human spirit of excellence has no gender. It belongs to anyone who strives hard for it. And that makes the fact 'Maari choriyan kisi choron se kam hai key' dawn in him. A belief which he drills, first harshly and then sensibly into both his daughters and makes them convert his dream into theirs.
In the story department, Dangal offers few surprises because both Geeta and Babita's historic wins at the Commonwealth Games and following championships is common knowledge. However, what it does is beautifully bring to life is their arduous journey, the steely resolve of their father and finally their triumph against the odds of gender stereotypes. A lot of critics to this plot would say that Mahavir only made his daughters instruments to his dream. Didn’t give them a choice for an alternate career. However that is not entirely true. As depicted in the movie, there were enough and more stages in the children’s lives where they refused to see his dream as theirs, even rebelled. But then when better sense prevailed, their journey to becoming champions began to see the light under the able tutelage of their father.
The semi final wrestling bout, the final five pointer slam that Geeta scores to win the gold, the intense dangal match with her father, where tradition wrestles with modernity are some scenes that stay with you. The film does have some bollywoodish moments too, like Mahavir ruling over the instructions given by the coach of the NSA to Geeta during the championship bout, being locked up during the final etc but then what is bollywood without some liberties.Nitesh Tiwari, the director of the film is able to extract some spirited performances from his younger actors, be it Suhani Bhatnagar and Zaira Wasim who play the younger incarnations of Babita and Geeta respectively. The show stealer however is Ritwik Sahore who plays their cousin Omkar, and the source of much amusement in the film, courtesy his role as a reluctant sparring partner for the girls in their growing up years. Sakshi Tanwar as Daya, the wife of Mahavir does a good job. Sanya Malhotra (adult Babita) lends good support but the one who goes hand in hand with the main lead is the character of Geeta played fiercely by dimpled Fatima Sana Shaikh. A good blend of beauty with brawns, she breathes this role to life and is only left behind in performance a ‘hanikarak bapu’ Aamir Khan (22 kilos heavier) with grey hair and a daddy paunch. Throughout the film, not for once you feel it is Aamir and that shows the actors commitment to play characters and not himself. The songs too blend in nicely with the plot, but the ones that deserve special mention are ‘Dhaakkad’, the soft track ‘Gileheriyan’ and Daler Mehndi’s soulful rendition of the title track ‘Dangal Dangal’ which gets the adrenaline pumping right from the start of the film.
Go get muddy in this Dangal, for in many ways it stroked the change in the patriarchal Jat mindset of Haryana. Where now behind many successful wrestlers and budding talents there is no man or woman but only a dream! A dream fuelled by the success of many families like the Phogats.