Its been a while since Bollywood offered an extravaganza of the stature of Dangal, a well-marketed, big-budget, three hour long roller coaster ride of emotions, starring one of the most vaunted actors in the industry. Its such a pleasure that it lives up to the huge expectations built up over the past few months.
Mahavir Singh Phogat, a wrestling champion is forced to give up his dream of winning for his country. Realizing that his daughters have the requisite skills, he dedicates his life to coaching them to follow in his footsteps and bring his dreams to fruition.
Seldom do movies keep you so engaged for so long and given Dangal’s overlong runtime, that’s saying something. The writers deserve credit for giving us a biopic that focuses on what’s necessary: the motivations, the flaws, the relationships, the hurdles, the failures and the successes. Although its ambiguous, I would consider this the tale of Geeta Phogat, Mahavira’s elder daughter, more than his own. Director Nitish Tiwari superbly steers the movie and its characters through vicissitudes of their lives. Sakshi Tanwar as Mahavira’s wife, and Fatima Sana Sheikh as the protagonist are great at their parts, but its Sanya Malhotra, who plays Mahavira’s second daughter and Zaira Wasim, playing the younger Geeta, who come out as strikingly brilliant actors. Ritwik Sahore, playing the younger version of Mahavir’s nephew deserves a special mention for stealing the show with his cheerful comic relief. None of them come close to the restrained performance Aamir Khan gives as the hot-tempered martinet father, whose deeds express more than his words. Aamir has outdone literally all of his previous performances and sinks into the role without ever holding back. Cinematographer Sethu Sriram, and music composer Pritam add life to the movie and immerse you into it. The wrestling scenes, except for some over-dramatic slow motion ones in the end, are so riveting and feel so authentic, that you will catch yourself holding your breath more than once.
Having said that the movie feels authentic in its storytelling, I must mention that it does falter quite a few times, and in a near perfect movie, these flaws stick out more patently. A coach who is played out to be a Bollywood villain, right from his first scene, without clear motives, doesn’t blend in with the rest of the movie, which is mostly practical. The last act is overly maudlin and contrived, and feels like bumps in a smooth journey that most of the movie is. I was also not very comfortable with the justification the movie offers for Mahavir being a father who imposes his dreams on his daughters; it felt shockingly patriarchal, especially for a movie about women empowerment.
Despite a few chinks, Dangal delivers what was promised and much more, making this is a perfect Bollywood sports movie. I can’t help but compare it with Chak De India! (2007), with which it shares so much of its theme, and although its just short of Chak De’s sleekness, it also makes my list of all time best Bollywood movies. I will rate it 8.5/10