There is a scene in Dangal where Sakshi Tanwar’s Daya Phogat wonders aloud to her husband that she is unable to understand his methods to drive their daughters towards a career in the sport of wrestling. Aamir Khan’s Mahavir Phogat replies that he is in a situation where he can either be a Teacher (Guru) or a father, but not both. The line is intended towards the audience lest they end up thinking what a cruel father Phogat was. Towards the later part of the movie we get a brilliant scene where Phogat’s elder daughter Geeta calls home and asks to speak to her father. This scene is preceded by an ego-cum-wrestling clash between the teacher Phogat and the student Geeta. As Daya hands over the phone to her husband, we get to see the Teacher Phogat say a brusque ‘Haan’ intended to the student Geeta. But what he hears is sobbing at the other end, from the daughter Geeta. At that instant, the Teacher Phogat and the Father Phogat fight an internal battle and merge into one. Aamir Khan aces this scene in a way only he can and succeeds in making the audience buy this metamorphosis. I found this scene to be the most significant one in this brilliantly made sports drama.
While there have been many discussions as to whether Dangal is feminist or patriarchal, I personally found the cusp of the movie to be this metamorphosis of the Teacher and the Father. Of course, the movie had an engaging screenplay with some of the best casting one could see in a Hindi movie. Aamir Khan is easily the most assured star of Indian cinema. He doesn’t need all 161 minutes of screen time to enhance his stardom. He lets the new girls hog the limelight for most part of the movie while coming up with frequent scene-stealing performances. The Girls, be it Zaira and Suhani as the younger versions of the Phogat sisters or Fatima and Sana as the elder versions, are pitch perfect in casting as well as performance. It is hard to believe they are young actors and not actual wrestlers. While credit for this must go to the girls, a significant part of it must also go to the wrestling choreographer Kripa Shankar Bishnoi. The wrestling sequences were absolutely nail biting and never once felt staged. The second half is packed with so much of wrestling action that if there had been a slight misstep in the action choreography, it would have impacted the whole movie. But the sequences end up saving even the otherwise clichéd jingoistic climax.
As Geeta stands on the podium with her medal and the national anthem plays out, we see Phogat reacting like the true blue nationalist sportsman who has helped his country win an international gold medal. It is ironic that Phogat was played to perfection by the very same actor who was called out for being ‘anti-national’ and asked to leave the country if he found it ‘intolerant’. If Aamir Khan can give us a movie like Dangal every year, I personally wouldn’t give two hoots as to whether he is a chest-thumping patriot or not.