Unquestionable: Review of DANGAL (2016)

Dangal, the new Aamir Khan production in collaboration with Disney studio, is in the tradition of Pink (2016), made under the ‘girls are great’ banner, but with lesser didacticism and better cinematic sense. Dangal is directed at the crude, patriarchal, institutionalized mindset characteristic of the average Indian man or woman, and, this is important, not at the enlightened, highbrow, nitpicking intellectual, like you or me. It is, first and foremost, an entertainer. And does it’s job well. 

In hindsight, I might have been severe in my Pulimurugan review, another commercial blockbuster with colossal marketing. That was because I was disappointed with how the promising start of the film lost its verve as it dwindled pompously to a predictable end. I generally loathe things that promise euphoria but then turn out to be a stroll down chaala market, bickering with the vendors about cheapjack things. 

The best thing about Dangal is that it achieves what it sets about to achieve. A man who had to forego his dream strives against odds to fulfil it through his progeny. A typical Indian story. But here’s the twist, his progeny turns out to be a girls only parade, not that this deters him for long. It’s not about patriarchy imposing its will on the puny little girls to forego their conventional girlishness in the pursuit of their father’s ambition. If you look at it that way, the entire film looks tyrannical, and takes the life out of the warm, family entertainer. At one point, the girls themselves rebel against the tyranny of the father in sacrificing their childhood, academic progress, domestic chores, and the peripherals of traditional, gendered appearance, for the sake of their father’s stupid dream to win gold for the country. Rather than a vehicle for patriarchy, they are the inheritors of the heritage of their father. Because genius is in the genes, same old Disney dictum. 

Cropping hair, wearing shorts, abstaining from entertainment, etc are not signs of masculinity or a foregoing of femininity, but signs of discipline, a kind of rigorous sanyasa. Wrestling isn’t merely a sport they play, it’s an honour, and becoming worthy of that honour behooves an ascetic life. Sounds well to me. The whole girl question comes in only because the father chooses his daughters to succeed him, instead of perhaps starting a local wrestling school for boys to find the best talent. The girls act as an extension of their father’s spirit, so to say. In essence, it is him that ultimately fights the opponents and wins gold for the country. 

CLOWNIN’ score: 3/5

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