The problem with telling a real-life sporting champion story on the big screen can be very difficult to showcase because it gets all tangled up by its predictable outcome. However, that’s not the case in director Nitesh Tirvani’s biographical sports drama Dangal ,which shows how Mahavir Singh Phogat taught wrestling to his two daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari. This led to Geeta becoming India’s first female wrestler to win the gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In Dangal, Tirvani skillfully moves away from the predictable underdog sports story about guts-and-glory, and tells the story about a father who refused to bend and how he moulded his daughters into steel.
Mahavir Phogat (Aamir Khan) is an Indian wrestler in Haryana who never won a gold medal in his career. He is married to Daya (Sakshi Tanwar) and promises that his son will realize his dream of winning a gold medal for his country. However, Mahavir is blessed with daughters and even though he loves them dearly, he feels that his dream of winning a medal is shattered. One day, Mahavir gets to know that his two older daughters Geeta (Fatima Sana Sheikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra) had an altercation with neighbourhood boys and bashed them black and blue. That’s when Mahavir realized that his dream of winning a gold medal for the country in wrestling could be achieved by his daughters and decides to train his young daughters into world class wrestlers.
What works wonderfully in Dangal is the terrific writing and how the film flows in a straight line and rarely scratches the curves as director Nitesh Tiwari and his team of co-writers Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Meharotra craft a beautiful film. With Khan’s full support behind him, in the first half Tirvani uses this platform to send a powerful message to citizens of Haryana and explains that both boys and girls should be treated as equals.
What also works in Dangal is how the film is distinctly different pre and post intermission. In the first half we see how Mahavir uses his strict teaching methods so his daughters can fulfil his dream. However, in the second half Geeta is forced to leave her family and move abroad for the nationals. By meeting new friends and under the teaching of her new coach, played by Girish Kulkarni, she returns home with some arrogance as pride takes over. Geeta’s youthful arrogance and Mahavir’s hurt bewilderment are heart-breaking.
What also works in Dangal are beautifully and crisply shot wrestling matches and training montages. The background score enhances the impact of the drama and Pritam’s music is top notch. The Dangal title track being belted out by Daler Mehndi gives you that similar goosebumps feeling that you felt in Rang De Basanti, Lagaan and Chak De India.
Dangal lies on the broad shoulders of Mr. Perfectionist himself Aamir Khan who completely gives himself up to the role. With over 30 years of experience, it’s amazing that Khan continues to excel and finds different ways to entertain his fans. Khan cries, frowns, gets angry, looks old, is overweight and gets tired. As Khan just doesn’t play or look the part, he completely owns the part. This is a performance that never feels like a performance; he’s that good in the film.
Dangal does slip in the second half and the melodramatic climactic twist in the final wrestling portion of the film was unnecessary. However, nitpickings aside this is a truly special film that’s made with heart and passion.
I’m giving director Nitish Tirvani’s Dangal four-and-a-half stars. The wait was well worth it Mr. Khan for giving us the best film of the year. Kudos to you sir.