I watched the Dangal twice. On the same day. The second screening made me realise that the film is more than a sports film, much more than a father-daughter film. The film has so many layers; a social commentary on set rules for men and women, a beautiful marriage that despite being rooted in patriarchy is willing to bend the rules. The film also presents, though briefly, a feisty woman who shows us a different side of Balali, and each of these layers makes Dangal a fulfilling movie experience.
The time is the late ‘80s; the setting is Haryana. And to give perspective to the uninitiated, this is a state that belts misogyny for breakfast, with one of the worst skewed sex ratios and among the highest crime rate against women in the country. Female infanticide and honour killings are just a few of the many vices plaguing the state. Amid this regressive mindset, a former wrestler decides to train his daughters in wrestling, a sport meant for men. Salwar kameez hence ditched for loose bushat and nicker. Dumbbells replace dolls, and their long locks mercilessly chopped in a tear-jerker of a scene that reduces them to objects of mockery in front of the entire village as they walk to school the next day.
Dangal is caught in stereotypes, its tone is lewd, a few characters perverted. The film lists out each of these vices and busts them hard in their face giving viewers a sense of joy and relief. For instance, when young Geeta goes for her first wrestling match, she is scoffed at.
Most men letch at her, snigger obscenely; wonder if she would fight in a tee shirt, hoping it to rip off. And as soon as Geeta makes her male opponent bite the dust, jaws drop, hands applaud and the same lecherous men start rooting for her. That, for me, was the highlight of the film.
The film celebrates the role reversal. Geeta and Babita’s cousin Omkar becomes their Man Friday. He trains with them, cooks for them, travels with them and even gets slapped for them multiple times, yet his sense of bravado or machismo never questioned.
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There is also a fierce female character in the film; a rather upset neighbour whose sons were beaten blue and black by Geeta and Babita. She comes with her husband who fearfully parrots all her complaints to Mahavir Singh. That brief moment gives us such great insights into the other side of a man-woman relationship, a subtle dekko into the Khap land where women can take charge as well and be the perpetrators of patriarchy. The vexed neighbour walks out yelling at her sons, “ladkiyon se pitt gaye.” It reminded me of Dipti Singh’s character in NH 10 that shows how even women can pervert on gaining power.
And then there is a beautiful marriage of Mahavir and Daya caught in lofty dreams and depleting finances. Their relationship, though set in inequality, respects the sentiments of the wife as well. Mahavir badly wants a son who can fulfil his long-cherished dream of international glory. The wife doesn’t have any choice, any say in the matter. She becomes a baby-making machine for years as she bears daughter after daughter. She even apologises to her husband for not giving him a son, and he replies that it’s not her fault.
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In a country where women are burnt alive for not bearing boys, here’s a man, who despite his obsession with a son, never blames his wife. When he learns that international gold is irrespective of gender, he even seeks his wife’s permission to grant him a year so that he can train his daughters.
She puts her foot down, resisting the idea of cooking chicken in her kitchen as Mahavir demands protein diet for her daughters. A separate pan arranged in which chicken is prepared not by the wife or daughters but by a young ‘man’. The film even has a song, titled, idiot banna, (an idiotic groom), sung at a child marriage.
Dangal scores the most in the final scene. Its symbolism is both beautiful and practical, where the man who controls, steps aside. The woman takes centre stage and snatches her impossible victory that belongs solely to her, and we left with a new HERO.