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Dangal movie cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Ritwik Sahore, Aparshakti Khurana, Girish Kulkarni
Dangal movie director: Nitesh Tiwari
Dangal movie rating: Three stars
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.
Watch: Aamir Khan’s Dangal wins audience’s heart
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.
The other is a strong feminist statement about girls being the equal of boys, if not better, in an area they’ve never been seen, let alone accepted. When Mahavir steps into that tricky arena, he is derided and ridiculed: so are his young female charges, as well as their mother (Sakshi Tanwar) who could not bear sons.
In the Khap-ridden state of Haryana, where baby girls are still murdered at birth, and ‘honour killing’ is practiced with impunity and condoned (you may be over 18, but you have no right over your life), there cannot be a more important statement, especially when it comes from a big star.
Watch: Aamir Khan’s Dangal Facebook Live
The grizzled wrestler has to work his way to believing in his daughters, and in the fact that his ‘chhoris’ are no less than ‘chhoras’. It echoes the belief the real-life Phogat showed in his girls, as they went on to win medals and prizes in national and international arenas ( gold and silver medals in Commonwealth games, Olympic qualifier).
The actors who play the young Geeta and Babita (Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar) do a competent job of turning into eager combatants from young-girls-who-just-want-to-have-fun. And both Shaikh and Malhotra carry it forward, especially when they spend a lot of the second half on the mat, learning how to lose, and, above all, to win.
You know how this will end. And that makes many of the beats predictable. There are times when the film feels flat, and gets into repetitive loops. Those are times you feel like it should have been tighter. But you end up being impressed by the authenticity of the milieu, both in the sporting arena, as well as the domestic one: the girls jousting for that precious medal are not just going through the motions — they are fighting.
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.