Dangal (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two wrestler girls pushed by their father

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Indian film “Dangal”, which is belatedly released here in South Korea during last weekend, is a conventional sports drama which turns out to be better than I thought. Although there are numerous clichéd moments here and there in the film, they are handled well enough to amuse and entertain us throughout its 161-minute running time, and we come to root for its main characters as enjoying its spirit and personality.

The movie opens with the prologue scene set in 1988, and we meet Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Kahn), a former wrestler who wanted to win an Olympic gold medal for his country but had to give up his ambition because of his father’s demand. After marrying his wife Daya (Sakshi Tanwar), Mahavir becomes determined to realize his dream through his future son, but, alas, he only ends up being the father of four daughters, and that certainly daunts him a lot.

However, there comes a sudden idea to him on one day when he learns that his two older daughters Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar) got themselves into a fight with two local boys and then beat them up pretty hard. Coming to see that Geeta and Babita may be able to be wrestlers, Mahavir pushes them into a rigorous training process right from the very next morning, and Geeta and Babita are not so pleased by this drastic change coming upon them. With their mother standing by their father’s decision, they have no choice but to follow their father’s instructions along with their male cousin (Ritwik Sahore), who reluctantly joins Geeta and Babita’s training when Mahavir realizes that his daughters need a training partner for improving their physical strength and athletic skill.

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The more their father demand from them, the more Geeta and Babita become exhausted and frustrated. Besides going through grueling early morning workouts everyday, the girls are also demanded to stick to strict diet, and they are even forced to cut their hair short for a practical reason. Furthermore, they have to endure the constant ridicules from their neighbors and schoolmates, and that surely makes them all the more miserable and exasperated.

However, Geeta and Babita come to realize that they are relatively more fortunate compared to many other girls in their neighborhood, who, as pointed out during a small poignant moment in the middle of their friend’s early wedding, are only expected to be no more than a dutiful wife. Yes, it goes without saying that Mahavir is too harsh to his daughters at times and his motive is not entirely without selfishness, but he does care about them, and, above all, he really wants them to have a better life through wrestling.

Once Geeta and Babita become far more motivated than before, things begin to go pretty well for them. Geeta’s first match in public is not exactly successful, but that first experience gives her more confidence, and she soon starts to advance further along with her sister. Thanks to their continuing wins at several major competitions, nobody ridicules them now, and their father is surely proud of them more than ever.

After several years, Geeta, now played by Fatima Sana Shaikh, goes to the National Sports Academy in Patiala, and Babita, now played by Sanya Malhotra, also goes to the Academy not long after that. Mainly because of their coach, a petty guy who does not give a damn about what they experienced and learned before, Geeta keeps losing matches, and she becomes quite frustrated while also becoming distant to her father due to her disregard of his lessons.

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It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that she and her father eventually come to have a tearful moment of reconciliation, but the movie, which is loosely based on a real-life story, earns that moment thanks to its good storytelling and solid characterization, and then it goes all the way during the expected climax sequence. We can clearly see how it is trying to pull our heartstrings, but we cannot help but cheer for its main characters in the end, and the movie also shows some thoughtfulness as emphasizing the feminist aspect of its story.

Under the competent direction of director/co-writer Nitesh Tiwari, several match scenes in the film are presented well enough to excite and thrill us, and I particularly enjoyed how these scenes are shown with each own mood and personality. While early match scenes in the film are accompanied with rough qualities as required, the subsequent match scenes are depicted with more agility and smoothness, and the movie also makes sure that we understand basic rules of wrestling matches in advance.

The cast members of the film are engaging on the whole. Firmly holding the center with his charismatic presence, Aamir Khan, who also produced the film, often stands aside for his co-performers, who ably hold their respective places well around Khan. While Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar are flawlessly connected to Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra, Sakshi Tanwar is effective as Mahavir’s understanding wife, and Aparshakti Khurana and Ritwik Sahore are also fine as functioning as the main comic relief of the story.

Although mostly staying inside its genre conventions, “Dangal” did its job as well as intended, and I surely appreciated that while being surprised to find myself becoming more emotionally involved in its drama than expected. It is a bit too long in my inconsequential opinion, but that is just one of several minor flaws in the film, and I guarantee you that you will gladly go along with its bouncing spirit.

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