Aamir Khan and director Nitesh Tiwari make all the right moves to land the message that a chhori is no less than a chhora.
The slightly fictionalized version of national wrestling champ Mahavir Singh Phogat defies and delights in equal measure. The disappointment over the birth of a girl, followed by a string of daughters, and the accompanying pieces of advice on how to get a son, are all a part of the rural India we’re familiar with. Annoyingly and amusingly familiar.
The turning point when Mahavir realizes that a daughter is just as capable of bringing pride to him as a son makes him obsessive in his quest to turn Geeta and Babita into world champions. His reluctant daughters are denied golgappas or even an evening of fun. While sports films always use up footage on the training, here there’s also a parallel of a Haryanvi village watching with prejudice as the salwar-kameez gives way to shorts and long hair is cut short.
Mahavir’s burning passion of wanting a gold medal for India makes him invest all his courage in his girls, standing up to his society and pitching Geeta in the arena with male wrestlers. The village prejudice gradually segues into national pride.
There are turning points in Geeta’s life as well as she moves into the National Sports Academy under a new coach and gets distracted. There are some extremely poignant moments like the scene where father and daughter wrestle and Mahavir tastes humiliation. And there’s a silent making up over the phone. Younger sister Babita has a comparatively smaller role to play but it’s she who’s the natural bridge between Geeta and their father. There’s humor and warmth in the close ties between Mahavir and his nephew. The girls’ ‘cloj cujhin’ or close cousin is played well by Ritvik Sahore in their childhood and by Aparshakti Khurrana when they’re all slightly older.
There are expected filmic touches like the arrogant coach who misguides Geeta versus her champion father. There’s the usual Chak De! the moment when, instead of the dressing room speech, the father delivers his go-for-gold dialogue on a bench.
The film is also extremely lengthy and there are moments of restlessness as the game on the mat is stretched. But all is soon forgiven as Nitesh builds it up to a climax that brings a lump to the throat.
In the tradition of Chak De! India and Lagaan, patriotism and the Indian flag drive the climax and when the national anthem is played, the viewer can’t help but stand up with respect.
Expectedly, Aamir Khan relives the glory of Mahavir Singh Phogat without compromise. He is the aging father of two girls, a champion who had to give up a dream but lived to realize it through his ‘Geetta’ and ‘Babbitta’. Aamir is a Haryanvi champ for over two-and-a-half hours. Sakshi Tanwar as his wife and the mother of the girls makes her soft presence felt even as a bystander. Zaira Wasim and Fatima Sana Shaikh playing Geeta, and Suhani Bhatnagar and Sanya Malhotra as Babita, are so superbly cast that you can almost feel their transition into world class champs.
For a welcome addition to any library of well-made biopics, Dangal gets a 4 Star rating.