Aamir Khan film. Trailer looked great. Inspiring story of Phogats. These were the top 3 reasons why we booked FDFS tickets of Nitesh Tiwary’s Dangal. When we say we, it means 4 of us. But as we came out of the theatre, we found ourselves on different sides of the fence. As we are quite down in the bollywood food chain (say ADs/Assistant Directors and such), we asked mFC if our discussion can be posted anonymously. Nobody wants to hear the bad words. So why burn our blood and careers so early.
Read it only after you have seen the film, and let us know where do you stand.
Yes, the film is good and it really excels in performance and direction. I was riveted throughout except the cringe worthy climax. And I did feel it was really long.
Anyway, I have been thinking about it and there’s something that has been bothering me in the way women are presented in the film. I am aware that my reading is a little too ultra feminist but I did feel strongly about certain things. Here goes:
Though the film harps about being pro-feminist, it does so by still putting the men in control of the women. Sakshi Tanwar’s character completely shadows Mahavir. I would have loved to see some sign of revolt or at least a conscience. She is devoid of one and only allowed to play her strength through looks. The only time she is shown to have genuine anger and a rebel is when Mahavir is cooking chicken in the house. To a certain extent, I buy this because women from this world don’t have a say. But there could be a take, there could be a way to show some indictment. One example: She could have gone to Commonwealth Games to watch her daughter play. It’s in Delhi, not very far. Even the chicken seller shows up with his daughters with prasad to see Geeta wrestle. That bit of fiction would have been redeeming for the consistent lack of importance given to Sakshi’s character. But no, because nothing can come in the way of Mahavir’s glory.
One thing was smart that they used humour to hide the torture that Mahavir inflicts on the girls. You cringe when the boys make lewd comments at Geeta playing in a local match but find it utterly cute when Haanikaarak plays. Imagine watching the Haanikaarak video without the actual song and those cute lyrics. Watch the video imagining it with a empathetic violin piece. Add the cutting of the hair and the cousin being slapped at the wedding to the song montage. Aamir would have then sounded like the way his character actually is – a tyrant imposing his dreams. But then he has to be the hero. So yeah, smartly played.
The girls are constantly instructed what to do and how to play. Their personal transition of being forced to play to actually wanting to play seriously is given just a mere exposition scene. It feels so untrue. Aamir’s motives and choices are neatly etched out but the girls only hear their friend talk about freedom and have a change of heart. Their change is not so organic. And you can’t suddenly show your docile girls to be tomboys beating up neighbourhood kids. Least of parents see it. If they had shown Mahavir observing his daughters showing a streak of becoming wrestlers over the years, it would have been nice. Here in one scene they become nose breaking tomboys.
I felt so nice that Geeta revolts and questions Mahavir’s technique. The father daughter wrestling is the best scene in the film. It would have been so nice to see that Mahavir could go wrong. Like show a culmination of old ways realising there is some good in the new ways. But Aamir is right all the time. The film talks about less support from the state. But the institution such as the National Sports Academy is rendered completely useless and evil. Showing a caricature of a villain only heightens Mahavir’s heroism. It feels so deliberate/clever and not organic for a coach to behave like that. I would have loved it if Mahavir is shown agreeing to there being some merit in Geeta’s new techniques. It would have really emphasized the need of formal institutionalised training that this country so badly needs.
And then the final match: the coach and Mahavir are constantly playing on their egos to steer her match. Shut up! Stop confusing the girl. If she has willfully become a champion, she would have developed craft by herself. She may have her own technique. She is shown completely as a robot playing on the ego of these two men. The film realises it should have a conscience and gives one scene where Geeta plays on her own technique/volition. But even this is shown by a flashback where a drowning Geeta is told by Mahavir to become independent and her father is not going to be there all the time (by the way when you are under water you can’t hear from the outside). She remembers this and fights back. Even that show of individual drive is Mahavir’s glory. Imagine a scene where she would have remembered being bullied by some boys and she fights them all by herself. If she remembers this and had fought back in the match, it could have been her volition and not Mahavir’s conscience dictating her.
Even her win felt more Mahavir’s victory than the girls’. Yes the film is played through Mahavir’s point of view but I was constantly being bothered about the women showing no conscience. Yes, it is a true story and that’s how this part of the world is but as the makers you got to show some take. Even a sense of an indictment. The only flaw the film revels in showing is that Mahavir is stubborn and ego headed maniac but only to hammer down the point that Mahavir NEEDED to be that way to have won the medals. As if the film is saying that girls will have to listen to the men around them in order to become heroes, because if you are known as a weaker sex, you don’t have a conscience too.
But read any inspiring sports story where one has achieved anything. PVSindhu (she wakes up at 4am, doing that since she was a kid) or Agassi, without tyrant parent (starts with parents, kids – how will they know what potential they have) or coach (mostly dad/male coach), nothing is possible. It’s life of a monk. There is really no other way.
Easy to see everything through feminist prism. But if it was a guy wrestler and his dad/coach was being tyrant, it wont be a big thing, right? Parents thrusting their choices remain.
But the point is in most individual sports, all athletes are like blind runners without their coach. Starting from 0 to 100, every step belongs to coach/dad/whoever. Again, there is no other way. At least i have never read any story.
Aamir becomes that gyaani baba in 3 Idiots, PK, TZP, but here i don’t agree.
And if that meat seller has come with his daughter to see the match, why is that character not worthy of feminist lens? The meat seller, daughter, both.
Also are you forgetting the entire first half – Aamir’s character fighting against entire system, society, men, office – just the idea that women can wrestle.
Do you realise how daring and daunting thought that is? That’s the most feminist thing one can do. The thought to empower the girls.
I am not at all questioning the tyrannical way of coaching a sports person. We are saying it is smartly done in a commercial film. Nahin toh agar Whiplash jaisa karte toh you won’t sympathise with Aamir.
I am not so sure about coach being everything. Yes, off the match/game, surely. But once they are on the field, it is just them, right? Would you say that all boxers do exactly as told by their coach (just comparing for proximity with the player)? Initially, yes. But over the time, they will have developed instinct/technique, which is why they become what they eventually become. In that case we would have manufactured so many Usain Bolts and Muhammad Alis by now.
Meat seller – I will not argue about why he came to the match. Surely it is a nice touch but just that Geeta’s mother can’t make it but meat seller can make it to the match is what I felt odd about. This may be too much of nitpick, I agree.
And not denying at all that Mahavir didn’t fight the world but it was to satisfy his ego. To ensure his daughters gold on his behalf. I don’t think it came from a pro-feminist place. I am talking about other things in the film. Read Tanul Thakur’s piece. He has also spoken on similar lines. https://tanulthakur.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/review-dangal/
On casting, Girish Kulkarni was a total misfit for me. I just couldn’t buy him as the coach. He just didn’t have the personality. The character was anyway so stupid. Also the guy Aamir wrestles right at the start. I also think that the credit goes to their accent and wrestling training more than casting.
I read his piece. You too talking the same. I don’t agree. Except that pre-climatic twist, I didn’t have much problem with anything.
Why is it ego? Why is it not aim or ambition or dream? Because ego has negative connotation. Why isn’t even Phogat celebrated as a feminist hero. Because he is not urban or smart or suave or articulate or he doesn’t know the F-word. The starting point might have been his dreams of gold but what that has done for girls there, I don’t think any govt policy could have.
Haryana has the worst sex ratio.
Haryana also has the biggest Olympic contingent of female athletes.
Compare the two numbers and read a bit.
It’s amazing what sports has done. That too in the worst patriarchy society.
It’s not fair to put white man’s feminism definition in the context of Phogat. It’s like demonetization idea. Look at his context. His education, society, culture, upbringing, gender sense. I am saying in that place even to think that his daughters could go out and wrestle, that thought is much stronger than bra burning feminism ideas.
Oye! Don’t go out of the context of the film. We are only reading him as a character. You guys are clubbing him with the real life of Phogat.
Ego because you are making someone do something without their willingness. Replace sport with say, aeronautical engineering. Or let’s say my dad forced me into becoming IAS officer because he could never become one. That doesn’t remain ambition alone.
But he is based on real character! If he was fictional, you could have asked the writer director. Here it’s him only. How can you separate the two.
Sports kids starting early? It’s grey area for sure. And it always happens in all sports. Don’t think this film is even aspiring to find the answers to those questions. So why burden it?
Are we going in loop?
We need to hear more voices.
Have you seen Dangal? What do you think? Do join our debate in the comments section.