Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Writer: Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain, Nikhil Mehrotra, Nitesh Tiwari
Stars: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra
Runtime: 169 min
Genre: Action, Biography, Drama
Released: 21 Dec 2016
Storyline: Biographical sports drama on former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat and his two wrestler daughters’ struggle towards glory at the Commonwealth Games in the face of societal oppression.
Biopic of Mahavir Singh Phogat, who taught wrestling to his daughters Babita Kumari and Geeta Phogat. Geeta Phogat was India’s first female wrestler to win at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where she won the gold medal (52 kg) while her sister Babita Kumari won the silver (55 kg).
Review: There comes a time when a star gives in to the demands of a role which he knows will make him not-pretty: as a wannabe wrestler past his prime, Aamir Khan is squat, with a heavy belly, a deliberate gait, and a grizzled beard in Dangal. Only his jutting ears are familiar: the rest of him is pure character.
We are going to have to measure Aamir Khan’s future performances with this one: as Mahavir Singh Phogat, failed wrestler, rough-hewn authoritarian, but caring husband and father of four girls, he scales it up to a point where you can see the star take on a character, try it for size, and make it his own.
That was crucial for us to believe in Dangal, which borrows several elements from the real-life Haryana wrestler who trained his older two daughters, Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra), in the art of wrestling, and turned them into winners.
Dangal works on the twin parameters it sets up for itself. One is a straight-forward film about a popular sport and those who play it: we feel and smell the `mitti’ of the `akhara’, the `daanv-pench’ (moves) that truly skilled wrestlers use to face down formidable foes. We see the blood, sweat and tears that go into the making of champions.
Some near-pedestrian bits are offset by the performances. The first-timers — as little girls, and young women learning to gauge their opponent and beating all comers; no silver medals, only gold — all come off well. So does their cousin who is the funny-bone-cum-sutradhar (the boy is Ritwik Sahore and the young adult, Aparshakti Khurana): both are spot on in deportment and accent. Tanwar, as Khan’s wife, is a good choice, just familiar enough, and yet new enough. The sole iffy element here is the usually excellent Girish Kulkarni, who plays the ‘official’ coach happy to settle for less, so different from Papa Go-For-Gold-Phogat : he never seems to get his limbs dirty, and spends his time smirking.
But Aamir makes it all right. The film wouldn’t have been made if he hadn’t green-lit it, and he brings to it the sincerity of purpose which makes it not just a starry vehicle, but a film which is about something, which has meaning, with a message which doesn’t overwhelm the telling.
It could have easily turned into a vanity project, which is a clear and present danger when it comes to anything involving big stars. It could have been made more polished than required. In places it is stolid, and could have done with some lift, but it is solid all the way through. And, most crucially, it stays real, because the star ratchets it up when required, and lets it go in the rest.
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