Dangal [2016] – A Triumphant, Feel-Good Sports Biopic

A Bulletin-point review:

  • Aamir Khan is one of the few so-called ‘Stars’ of Indian cinema who allows us to recite the director’s name before mentioning the film. I mean he is an actor, who isn’t intent to imprint his star signature all over the movie. So, Nitesh Tawari’s Dangal was pure joy to watch on that front. 
  •  As we know, Dangal is based on the strenuous effort of real-life individuals (Mr. Mahavir Singh and his two wrestling champion daughters – Geeta and Babita) which boasts immense possibility to turn it into crisp, Bollywood entertainment. 
  •  Dangal forces us to use words like ‘a film with strong message’, ‘a film about women empowerment’, ‘testament to human spirit’, etc. Most of the ‘messages’ (in Indian films) are forced upon viewers, while the film-makers and actors totally failing to flesh out the characters’ inner life.
  • But it doesn’t happen with Dangal, at least in the brilliant 40 or so minutes in the first-half. 

  • The film’s opening scene gives the instant emotional engagement: we see two men who ought to have fought in a big arena for gold medals are wrestling in a decrepit bureaucratic building. 
  •  Mahavir Singh is kind of an authoritarian father who thinks his child is a vessel to realize his failed dreams. Director Nitesh Tiwari definitely wants us to root for the central character. But, he doesn’t neglect this dictatorial mindset. 
  •  The plot device used to make teenagers Geeta and Babita realize the importance of their father’s dream isn’t very convincing. Of course, we can’t just expect for a more in-depth look at Mahvir’s intentions, at the risk of turning him into an apathetic individual. 
  •  The first-half was like watching a good amateur marathon runner. We know the runner doesn’t have enough stamina to run for the finishing line. Yet, we get amazed by the indomitable spirit displayed by the person. Similarly, we know Dangal at some point of time is going to jump into cliched narrative shifts, but still I was elated and so engaged to witness those playful moments of the first-half.  

  •  May be the visual frames aren’t so good to be called as an cinematic achievement, but the way it’s all sewn together alongside the graceful, overshadowing performances of Zaira Wasim & Suhani Bhatnagar (played younger Geetha and Babita) kept me glued to the screen. 
  •  I liked the choice of person for voice-over. The person is detached from events, although he is closer to the characters. It leads to little glorification of ‘hero’ figure. Of course, the voice-over at times tries to tastelessly lay out all of characters’ inner emotions. 
  •  Dangal’s first-half is about Mr. Mahavir’s struggle to push his daughters inside the wrestling arena. The second-half is about the daughter’s struggle in keeping their place within the arena. And, since Mahavir is played by Aamir Khan there’s a necessity to find some action for him to do. Alas, this is where the narrative falters a bit. 
  •  The intention to include Mahavir into the ‘NSA’ scenario provokes a lot of manufactured drama as opposed to the organic development in the pre-interval portions.
  • Despite the clichés of sneering foreign opponents & cunning, arrogant coach, the filming of the wrestling sequences awakens us from post-interval lull. We definitely know the outcome of the fights and how some random ‘technique’ will be used as life-saver at the last minute. Yet, there’s a good, palpable intensity. We get the feeling of watching a real wrestling championship game. 
  •   The visuals for the songs elevate the inherent cordial nature of it. The Background music was surprisingly good (when compared with other Indian sports genre films).
  • As expected, the performances are phenomenal. I loved how Aamir Khan quickly and convincingly transforms himself into Mahavir Singh Phogat. It’s kind of a great achievement, considering the ludicrous projections made by ‘star’ actors. But, still I truly hope Mr. Aamir does complex roles in the future in a thematically heavy narrative. 
  •  If wrestling is all about bringing some one down by depleting the person’s strength, then Dangal does the opposite: it invigorates us. A flawed, yet an essential feel-good movie. 


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Brilliant analysis of a brilliant film... love the site's new look!

Btw, Dangal happens to be my top Hindi film of the year. Here is the complete list:


Indrani said...

I rarely see movies, but then this is one I am keen to see. Reading up several reviews before that.Thanks for this.

Arun Kumar said...

Thank you Murtaza. I already took a look at your Hindi movie. It's good. Haven't yet seen Buddha in a Traffic Jam.Looking forward to watch it.

rupam sarma said...

Beautiful review. Watched Dangal, Brilliant film.