Sunday, December 25, 2016

THE AUDACITY OF AMBITION

Sporting authenticity meets rich narrative in Dangal.

Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan) flips and slams down his challenger in an office friendly and then tells him “don’t feel bad; you lost to a former national champion”.

From there, through the narrow lanes of Bhiwani in Haryana (recreated in the villages of Punjab and Haryana), the movie takes you on a journey of dreams, ambition and persistence.

Clutch your heart tightly, because Dangal tugs at many levels.

This is not just about a father’s struggle to give his daughters equal opportunity. In fact it is not. Because Phogat wanted a son to make his dreams come true.

Director Nitesh Tiwari keeps the wrestling mat firmly in the centre of his sports drama. But the core really is at its wider rims – child marriage; gender bias; superstitions; rule of patriarchy and a general apathy towards sporting excellence in India.

Phogat, a former national champion, dreams of a son who will take forward his legacy.

But his desire for “Mhara betta” gets frustrated, when all four times the mid wife announces the birth of a girl - “Chorri hui hai”.

Phogat, now a father of four girls, gives in to fate and lets go of his dream to put a son on the international wrestling arena.

A chance discovery of lurking potential in his elder two daughters re-kindles his desire. If his pre-teen girls could beat the neighbourhood boys to near pulp, then they should be able to wrestle too!

It’s a classic Carpe Diem moment.

What leaves you gasping is the audacity of Phogat’s ambition and the resoluteness with which he goes after his goal.

Arms folded over his massive chest and a blueprint in his formidable eye, he unleashes a slew of draconian measures on his young girls to make them champion wrestlers.

But they want no part of his dream.

How they scheme and resist is funny. Their helplessness in a rigidly patriarchic society is poignant.

Their mother, played by Sakshi Tanwar, is trapped. Who will marry our girls? What will society say? How can I go against my husband?

Questions that haunt almost every woman in India.

Gita’s journey from a local star, to state and national champion is scripted tightly in a lucid narrative of events, challenges, ruthless bouts and victories.

But growing up inevitably means going away.

The suppressed anger against her authoritarian father shows up when Gita leaves home to join the National Sports Academy in Patiala.

She grows her hair, paints her nails, gorges on food and enjoys the attention of male athletes at the Academy.

And she routinely loses all her international matches.

For Gita, the second realisation is more painful than the first. Her return to the old norm and affirmation of her father as mentor makes for therapeutic viewing for parents. Didn't we tell you?

With father now firmly back as coach, will his method and instruction help Gita to break her jinx at international competitions?

Every bout, match and training in Dangal is recreated faithfully. The excitement and above all the patriotic fervor are palpable.

It was an emotional moment as theatre audiences jumped to their feet when the national anthem is played in the final moments of the film.

Mischief, anger, frustration, brawls and bouts will also engage your emotions and for this the credit goes to Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar. These munchkins who play the younger Gita and Babita sisters hold their own against giant performer Aamir with aplomb.

Fatima Sana Shaikh as grown up Gita could just be the find of the year.

Every time you start gawking at her breathtaking beauty, she draws you in with her superior acting skills. Her svelte moves are poetry in motion; graceful, but never losing their athleticism.

Audiences love morals, messages and moments of truth. And Dangal presents more than one in a finely woven mosaic of sport and story.

But what they love most is to be told that great victories are savoured after conquering great challenges.

Dangal scripts that victory with a high degree of fidelity and Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat is its most faithful protagonist.

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