DANGAL Movie Review:  Competently made feel-good genre entertainer




It’s an enjoyable and perfect film for a festival release. The audience will have a ‘paisa vasool’ experience. This Indian story could have been a world classic, and a multiple Oscar winner. It could have won the Palme d’Or and may have become the first globally celebrated Indian film that defied genre norms. However, the filmmakers chose to set low benchmarks for themselves and let the opportunity go by.


This is the mindset of slaves. Their greatest aspiration is to become like their owners. They cannot envision a future beyond that. When they get to talk, dress, smell, eat, sing, dance, and live like their masters, they sport that smug smile on their visage that declares to the rest of their fellow beings, ‘look I have arrived’. They don’t realize that they are still carrying the baggage of their erstwhile masters.  


The film suffers from the same debility as most of the Hollywood films of the genre. It’s based on the true story of wrestling coach Mahaveer Singh Phogat of Haryana and his much-celebrated daughters who have achieved so much in the field of women's wrestling and brought glory to a nation where laws are enacted to prevent female feticide & the govt. has to devise campaigns like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ to correct the skewed sex-ratio, particularly in urban areas. The film does not come across as a unique untold story of a Haryanvi father and his daughters. It’s a typical sports film that follows dutifully the genre template of Hollywood, an Indian story in the ‘Rocky’ mold. Gratefully it’s not about an Indian Rocky like ‘Sultan’. It’s more in the league of ‘Chak De India’.


Mahaveer Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a national wrestling champion for Haryana, has retired from active wrestling and works in a government office. He had an ambition to win an international medal for his nation but that didn’t happen. He hopes that his son will fulfill his dream. That does not happen either. In the hope of having a son, he begets four daughters fom his wife Daya (Sakshi Tanwar), which ends his dream until the day his elder daughters Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar) beat up a few lads who dared to tease them. He decides to train his daughters as wrestlers, swimming against the tide of disapproval from all and sundry, including Daya and even his daughters who become everyone’s butt of joke in their school and locality & cannot take the rigors and torture of training prescribed by their father, who is more of an extremely demanding wrestling coach than a loving father now. He finally prevails over family obstacles. He makes his daughters participate in local ‘dangals’ (wrestling competitions) and wrestle with boy wrestlers as part of his training. He also manages to train them in the ways of Greco-Roman competitive wrestling in spite of the absence of facilities and indifference of local sports officials towards women’s wrestling. Geeta grows up (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and wins the state and eventually the national championship and is sent to the National Sports Institute, Patiala, where an idiot of a short-sighted coach interferes with her natural style and in the process she fails to make her mark in international wrestling. She also has a tiff with her father and their relationship becomes estranged. Now grown up, Babita (Sanya Malhotra) also wins the national championship and joins NSI & discovers that Geeta had forgotten about their father’s discipline & dream. Geeta and Mahaveer reconcile their differences. Mahaveer decides to shift to Patiala to help Geeta prepare for the Commonwealth games. But he has to deal with the wily and conceited idiot of the coach of NSI, Patiala. Will Geeta win the top honors in the Commonwealth Games and fulfill her father’s long held dream of winning in an international competition? 


It’s the typical Indian elements that make the film endearing. The young Geeta and Babita and their interactions are a treat. They could have wrestled better though. I don’t know how many of you have actually watched a dangal live. I have and it’s actually far more exciting than watching a cricket match. There is a lot of bonhomie around, and the audience behaves like connoisseurs of the game. The director succeeds in filming the long wrestling sequences quite effectively. It’s not freestyle wrestling yet choreographed so well that you feel as if you are part of the wrestling arena and get involved. I would have preferred to see young girls covered more in sweat soaked and purified ‘akhaade ki mitti’ and testing their might against their opponents with greater grit and determination.


It’s the absence of such nuances in the screenplay and direction that works to the detriment of the film and stops it from becoming an extra-ordinary cinematic experience. It works fine as a genre film and is just a few notches below Chak De India. It also has some idiotic stuff like the opening sequence where Mahaveer has an impromptu bout with a new employee in his office, a state level wrestler, who strangely does not know anything about Mahaveer.  Even if such an incident took place, there was no need to have a crappy scene like this just because our hero gets to deliver a punch line. Aamir works very hard on his physical appearance yet misses on the nonchalance attitude of a wrestler who expresses his strength more through his silence and occasional grunts. Here is an actual photograph of Mahaveer Singh Phogat, a quintessential pehalwan, and his appearance speaks for his entire personality.



One of the songs has very funny lyrics and is heart-warming, the one where a kid is complaining about the torture his father is making him go through. The background score is non-intrusive. It’s also a well-shot and lovingly edited film. 


Bollywood is all set to have a Merry Christmas and a happy Christian New Year, with cash crunch a thing of the past, well within 50 days, the time the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked for.


And I’m sure ‘Intolerant Indians’ will also watch Dangal for its good storytelling in spite of Aamir’s ‘intolerance’ crap. They will also stand up when the national anthem tune is played in the final sequence of the film and appreciate with moist eyes the character of a little Muslim girl shouting Bharat Mata Ki Jai at the end of it.




Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, Produced by Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Written by Nitesh Tiwari, Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain, Nikhil Meharotra

Based on Mahavir Singh Phogat, Starring - Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Music by Pritam, Cinematography by Sethu Sriram, Edited by Ballu Saluja, Production companies - Walt Disney Pictures, Aamir Khan Productions UTV Motion Pictures, Distributed by Walt Disney Studios

Rajesh Kumar Singh

@khulkebolo @neelnabh

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