Monday, January 02, 2017

Amir’s ‘Dangal’, reviewing a film experience

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Given the state of traffic in most of the Indian cities, it is indeed a bold decision to go out to the movies and one has to make a very clever selection since so much may be at stake. The expensive tickets, the long ride and sundry other irritants can be a major disincentive and yet the lure of the big screen is something I have not been able to overcome. I can quite see myself even in distant future as an old man dragging himself along the dark aisles and ignoring the annoyed remarks emanating from faces I cannot see. There is indeed no substitute for the big platter of the 70mm and no home theatre snacking would ever suffice for me. That said the risks are immense too. If I may make a bizarrely anachronistic comparison, once in Haryana I was told by the oldies that not long ago country folk would trudge up to 40 kms to watch a nightlong Sang shows. So imagine how dire a villainy it would be to disappoint an audience that comes to you from afar after so much sweat and hoping! Even though they do not have to carry their foodstuff anymore and are willing to spend insensibly at the snack counter!

In Hyderabad the other day, I got a risk-free opportunity to see Amir Kahn’s ‘Dangal’ in a neighbouring single screen cinema that went through a makeover recently, the owners turning a C-grade arena of porn offerings [early morning shows included] into a respectable theatre. It was the New Year’s Day and the throngs were milling. The driving and parking culture in Hyderabad can get scary – the zealous bike riders seemed to plough right through the crowds all the way to the ticket counter. I had a prior booking of course and was happy to learn that I do not need to have my sms converted into paper ticket.

When in Hyderabad you cannot be spared the ads from sari and jewelry showrooms that look like aeroplane hangars. Preceding ‘Dangal’, one was thus served a feast of Telugu beauty and the thin-voiced croonings that go with it. Just before the film started I was struck by a sense of trepidation. I am not quite a fan of Amir Khan films as I find them too idealistic about values I do not particularly care for and I find his brand of idealism a bit too simplistic and slogan ridden, at times just a substitute for good storytelling. I thus wondered beforehand if Amir is going to offer a straight muscular path to women’s liberation through wrestling. It turns out ‘Dangal’ did not disappoint as the film went past without a flicker of boredom. I blinked many times of course at the overly patriotic rhetoric of getting ‘medal for the country’. But I was reminded of the tough times stars like Amir and Shahrukh have been through in what may be a synoptic but painful phase of Hindutva. Being trolled and teased with full official approval and encouragement, they perhaps need to overcompensate and over-amplify their patriotism.
Fatima Sheikh, who plays Babita Phogat 

‘Dangal’ seemed to do full justice to the ambivalence of emotions that are integral to flesh and blood human beings. The little girls whom Amir the father wants to turn into hulky dynamos as national wrestling champions do their own ‘dangal’ [contest] with the father through acts of noncooperation. At the initial stages of their training before making their father’s cause their own, they try a series of cute tricks to defeat the somber disciplinarian idealist Amir.  Amir as the father and the guru shows ambivalence too, shifting between the infinite tenderness a father feels for little daughters to the hoarse toughness of a merciless guru. An interesting aspect of the entire tale is the half-hidden contest between the modern technocratic regimen of professional wrestling and the entirely intuitive style of the old school wrestling. Amir the father wins his own little dangal in convincing his daughters that the standard techniques fashioned by the professional coach at the sports academy are inferior to his own earthy style.

As is well-known now, the film is based on the real life of Mahavir Phogat who coached his daughters in wrestling and brought fame to the family, the village, the state and the community through a series of medals at a number of international tourneys. The remarkable thing about the real man was his determination to stand against the Haryanvi/Jat society to make his dream come true, a dream his daughters shared and accomplished in real life, and well, now on the screen. Anyone familiar with the haryanvi culture will know what kind of excessive and even reckless courage you need to raise women wrestlers in the family. 

Okay, I wish I had something to whine about at the end just to prove that my critical faculties were alive and kicking. But no, apart from the excessively patriotic rhetoric I have no crib to offer. But wait as I wind up, the music was downright bad and improperly punctuated even. These days you often get ‘sufiyana’ howlings in Hindi movies that are meant to enhance your emotional intensity and I look at them more or less as avoidable emotive steroids when the music is not good. One last word before departing – it was good to see Amir offer some spontaneous acting for once instead of the strained one I am accustomed to, but that has of course only been my very personal grouse and bias over the years!  You may differ.     

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