Dangal: When a couple wrestles with ambition

While the main focus of the film Dangal is on the relationship of the daughters with their father, just as crucial in the background are the husband-wife dynamics

Rakhi Jain | Posted on 24 Dec 2016
Time to read: 3 min
Dangal - a Review: On marriage and ambition | Bonobology

The world is going gaga over Dangal (Wrestling Match), the sports biopic of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his two daughters Geeta and Babita, the sisters who won Commonwealth Games gold medals in wrestling. It loudly applauds the teamwork of the near insane father and the wrestler sisters, who dare to go where no Indian girl has been before. What one might not notice is another team that works in the background – the couple, Daya Shobha Kaur and Mahavir.

Dangal is set in Balali village of Bhiwani, Haryana, where not only is the male-to-female sex ratio dismal, but the treatment meted to women is far worse. Sakshi Tanwar as Mahavir’s wife is subtle yet impressive in her part. Daya appears a silent and submissive wife when her husband aches to produce a male heir to fulfill his medal dreams in international wrestling. For his goal she tries all remedies her friends suggest for conceiving a son.

She expresses guilt at her failure to deliver a son – less for the child and more for the unfulfilled medal dream, because she empathises with her husband’s burning passion and knows what damage the discontent does to him.

When Mahvir decides to train his pugnacious daughters Geeta and Babita, Daya transforms into his alter ego who questions his motives and methods. Together the couple navigates the problems the orthodox society poses against girls aspiring to wrestle. Dangal smells of the wrestling pit mud and also of the blood and sweat that goes into the making of champions.

Mahavir and his wife follow the traditional division of labour in a household, but he consults her as an equal, discusses his ambition and his strategies with her. It’s this communication that makes her the fulcrum of an emotional seesaw between her husband and children.

Mahavir’s ruthless coaching often places them at odds with each other and with the children.

Nitesh Tiwari (director and co-screenwriter) has not shied away from giving poignant scenes, yet he has kept a tight rein on the expression of these emotions. The obstinate father and his family steer through a precarious social fabric dyed in deep-rooted gender stereotypes and rural convention.

Daya doesn’t hesitate to remind her husband that he is driven by his personal agenda. He is guilty of robbing his daughters of their childhood. He has pushed them into the wrestling pit before they are old enough to decide for themselves. Yet her arguments are personal and to the girls she presents the parents as a combined front. If she sews their shorts ordered by the father, she also cries when their hair is mercilessly chopped off.

There is an internal Dangal that the couple fights. They make a choice to sacrifice their tender parental instincts for the future of their children. The two little girls Geeta and Babita see the father as an oppressor initially. They face a gender identity crisis; they do nothing that girls around them do. Finally, a soon-to-be-married friend makes them realise the possible predicament of being pushed into dead-end domesticity in the girls’ early teens. It is then they happily join forces with their exceptional parents.

Dangal is mature entertainment that uses all the elements of good old storytelling. The screenplay weaves restrained threads of fiction into the film’s essentially realistic rural handwoven tapestry. Each character has a pursuit and a motive for the way he is and their conflicts create pockets of curiosity in an otherwise predictable saga.

The final conflict point in the training is the ingrained values of the father’s traditional coaching methods versus the modern ways of the national sports academy. The mother is aware of and worried by the widening gap between the father and elder daughter. She provides him the emotional solace he needs. Both Daya and Mahavir wait with restraint for stubborn Geeta to learn from her mistakes. And she does, that’s where they really win as a team.

Apart from the emotional turmoil, the high points of this well-crafted film are the nail-biting wrestling sequences. The camera angles and genuine combat techniques pump your adrenaline rush to a new level. The final match at the Commonwealth Games 2010 is will make you cheer out loud.

 

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