Sports films are a relatively newer genre in India and there have been very few films in the genre. Dangal is a classic sports film in the sense of an underdog (underbitch?) who fights against the odds to get to where she is, the early success, arrogance, fall and then the clawing back to victory. The classic redemption story.

But the true story is much more gritty than that. It is the fight against patriarchy, against social norms, against gender dominance by the male, against the stereotypical role of daughters and the traditional father-daughter equation that prevails in Haryana, which is one of the states with the highest gender imbalance. Dangal does a decent job of portraying all of this, even while it glosses over the many struggles that must have taken place in real life against the expected mores and behaviours society dictates for women, in favour of a focus on the relationship between father and daughters.

What Dangal does even better is to underline the terrible conditions that most of India’s sportspeople train in, apart from cricketers. There are no facilities, no training grounds, hardly any money especially for women. Officialdom is notably apathetic and disinterested in the cause of sports – which was evident in the disparate treatment officials enjoyed at the Rio Olympics versus our sportspeople. It is really heartening yet heartbreaking to see how our sports people are given short shrift by the establishment, who is all too eager to corner the glory, the moment one of them triumphs against government-created odds.

The first half of the movie is very funny, with many laugh out loud moments, while the second half expectedly gets more dramatic , with the emotional crises and the denouement. There is a touch of melodrama added in the end to ratchet up the EQ, which didn't quite hit the right note, but I suppose for a movie to create catharsis, you need heightened dramatic tension and you need a villain of some sort. That was the only wrong note in the movie.

Aamir Khan has done his usual fabulous job, nailing not just the Haryanvi dialect but his body language, expressions, the cauliflower ears. He inhabits the role of Mahavir Singh Phogat completely and is able to convey so much by a moment of stillness, a look of pain in his eyes, without saying a single word. Sakshi Tanwar also does a great job as the mother, though her role is limited to a few scenes. But the scene stealers are the two girls and the cujjan – both younger and older. The actors live the roles so beautifully that it is difficult to believe it is their first film. The wrestling scenes are filmed so realistically that it doesn’t seem like we are watching actors enact the matches. The audience was clapping and cheering along, just as it happened when we watched Lagaan all those years ago!

The music fits in well, with some of the songs becoming earworms – my kids have been humming Dangal all day, while I preferred the Bapu song. The Haryanvi dialect too is ear-wormy, and we have all been producing execrable versions of it since yesterday.

It is one of the best films I have seen this year, highly recommended. Do go and take your children along!
On a separate note, the national anthem played at the beginning of the movie. Despite being an objector to this random playing, I stood up for it. For the first time in all my life, I did not feel chills up my spine while hearing it.

Later on in the movie, when Geeta Phogat won a gold at the Commonwealth Games 2010, the anthem played again. This time, though I was sitting down, I felt goosebumps. That brings me to my fundamental disconnect with the playing of the anthem. If you play it before every single movie, it begins to lose its relevance and actually becomes cheapened. The mood before a movie is far from reverent, it is fun, irreverent, focused on popcorn and nachos and a giant coke and the entertainment to follow. Playing the anthem at such a time means that you don’t listen to it in the right spirit. And thus, it loses all significance.

Whereas when you hear it in Republic Day or Independence Day, or at a sporting event when India wins – the history of our country overwhelms you, you remember all the freedom fighting stories you ever heard, you feel a renewed sense of pride in your country. And it sends shivers up your spine, because in that moment, the anthem means something to you. It is not a perfunctory, state-mandated respect but a deep and inborn sense of respect, pride and love for your country that sends you to your feet, to pay homage to this beautiful country to which we belong.


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