Is there room for patriotism in a theatre where people are either too preoccupied playing vigilantes or too fearful to feel much else? I recently watched Dangal at the cineplex in Mumbai’s northern suburbs of Goregaon. And this is the one question I came back asking myself. The story of Mahavir Phogat and his two daughters, Dangal is a rather long film. It’s entertaining too, as you watch the father train Geeta and Babita to become national champions in wrestling. But that’s not victory enough for Phogat, who dreams of gold. He wants his daughters, especially the elder Geeta, to bring the country fame by winning a medal in the international sporting arena. The whole film is geared towards that final victory, the moment when Geeta brings home that coveted gold.
But when the match takes place, the father, due to certain circumstances, isn’t present to witness it. With no means to communicate, he spends each moment wondering and hoping that his daughter, whom he has worked so hard with and has set all his hopes on, has defeated her tough competitor. After an edge-of-the-seat climax, Geeta predictably wins the match. The audience, who has joined her in that two-and-a-half hour-long journey, joins her in her euphoria at beating the opponent, and shares her sense of pride as she takes the stage to collect the medal. But that moment is suddenly interrupted when the National Anthem begins to play in the movie.
What may have been an organic evolution towards the feeling of patriotism is suddenly taken over by confusion. The eyes are torn off the screen as everyone begins to look at one another? Has anyone stood up? Should I do that? It’s a question that was evidently on everyone’s mind.
The audience in the show I watched didn’t eventually stand up but they did I suppose, for those few moments, feel a tad bit like Aamir Khan’s character in the scene as he waits to find out the outcome of the match – curious, nervous and perhaps a tad bit fearful.
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