dangal has me flying in the air

it’s a beautiful film and i almost didn’t see it. of late, hindi films somehow don’t make contact. dangal took me down straight and left me a bit winded and giddily as well as deeply happy.

deeply happy because of the girls. really, four little tornadoes or “syckalone” as the song says.

giddily happy thanks to the ambush of emotions by some seriously good story telling, oh so missing in movies these days. the true story out of haryana where women aren’t exactly prized, where a father finally decides he will train his daughters to become wrestlers, and the making of absolute champs, is exhilarating in itself, you don’t need a movie for that. and there are many such “reality” films being made these days. but here, the filmmakers were not lazy or laid back, letting it all ride on the story alone. they entered the arena, or should i say akhada, ready to face every challenge of telling this story… as a movie. as cinema. as a hindi phillum, where the audience must return for a few more watches, to turn it into a super hit. and they covered every inch of the wide digital screen with a palpable, tactile tale, that drew you right in and threw you with its dhaakad, (just learnt dhaakad means force). no need for 3-d versions, you feel the wrestle and the flight and the mat just sitting there in your cineplex seat, even minus the chawanni audience.

let’s talk about the girls first. geeta and babita (gitta and babitta, with the t soft if you wish to say it the haryanvi way) are the daughters of mahavir singh phogat and his wife daya kaur. they have two younger sisters as well. mahavir is an amateur wrestler who had dreams of winning gold for india, however life and its demands as usual stymied things. he hopes to have a son who will become a wrestler and do what he couldn’t do. the story varies in places from what inspired it, but it sticks to the main outline and the message inherent in it.

the poster’s headline says: mhare chhoriyan chhoron se kam hain ke? are our girls less than our boys?

the son never arrives and mahavir is all set to let his dream stay locked in a trunk, when one fine day, geeta and babita show a side of themselves that has mahavir in a state. it leads to an unthinkable aspiration and a fantastic tussle with a dream. it also establishes to little geeta and babita, played endearingly and unforgettably by zaira wasim and suhani bhatnagar that their father, their bapu, is absolutely “haanikaarak”, that is, injurious to health.

sung by twelve year old sarwar khan and sartaz khan barna

aamir khan as mahavir singh never lets you feel the distance between actor and character. for those two hours and forty nine minutes (i think that’s the duration), he is mahavir singh phogat and his daughters had better learn how to become champion wrestlers. his articulation of a father and a wrestler is clean and sharp. there’s a dialogue about how he can’t be a father when he is a coach and can’t be a coach when he is being a father that tells a whole story of its own. i am a bit wary of mr khan these days, i find he can get a tad too intense or even melodramatic… but this was a great performance. pitched perfectly and it looked like he was really enjoying himself.

i am hearing that some feel there’s misogyny here and something not quite right about a parent imposing his will, etc. i didn’t sense any misogyny… as for parents imposing their will, that does happen and in this case it led to an illuminating experience for both parent and progeny ultimately… also, this was a story about human beings, we do tend not to be perfect; so, yeah, mahavir would have been truly enlightened and politically correct if he had consulted his wife about things and chatted with his girls about their dreams and desires. had he done that though and everything had been the way we think things ought to be, i wonder if my daughter would be searching up the net right now to find out all she can about geeta and babita and telling all her friends, who are neither indian nor speak any hindi, to go watch dangal. i have rarely seen her so excited about anything. and she doesn’t understand hindi. she heard dangal in subtitles and even that didn’t interfere with the force of its communication.

fatima sana sheikh and sanya malhotra were the older geeta and babita. both are delightful interpreters of character. and again, quite unforgettable. they are also gorgeous to look at, but this film was not just about looking good or even about acting well, it was about acquiring a whole new skill and becoming wrestlers almost. astonishing work by all the girls to master wrestling. they trained for months with coach kripa shankar bishnoi. these girls are tough, they do stuff on screen that i’ve never seen before and they are just so good at it.

i must also give it to aamir khan for sort of staying back a bit and giving the four young actors enough space to come forward and shine bright. the chemistry between the girls and aamir khan was lovely… a flow in it.

okay, there was this boy i had to love. omkar, the hapless cousin of the geeta and babita. he is his fairly violent cousins’ favourite punching bag and the story’s narrator. now, usually it’s the sonorous voice of an amitabh bachchan or the dramatic take of an om puri or someone like that doing this kind of thing; here, it’s the faintly whiny, totally funny hariyanvi drawl of aparshakti khurrana. have you heard of him? he’s ayushmann khurrana’s brother and this year everyone is talking about him in saat uchakkey. haven’t seen the film, so can’t comment. but in dangal, he was hilarious and touching. and little omkar by ritwik sahore… really, how talented are these children. i am still laughing remembering his expressions.

sakshi tanwar is not my fave actress, but here she was very good, it’s a quiet role in the background mainly and she kept to its tenor without shortchanging on the delivery. created a character.

casting director mukesh chhabra has a keen keen eye and sense of the role, i think. the acting was evenly wonderful. look out for the chicken seller.

i read on the net, it was an executive at disney who had come across the story of mahavir singh phogat – an amateur wrestler and coach who turned his girls into wrestlers, with the elder one going on to win the first gold for india in the commonwealth games women’s wrestling – and thought it was good material for a film. disney took it to director nitesh tiwari, who wrote the basic script and then finally it was presented to aamir khan. initially, aamir khan had said he was interested but they should perhaps do the film a few years later but then, he kept thinking about the story and soon after pk, they started making dangal. the script by tiwari and his team is neat. it’s funny, it’s got pace, it’s sassy and it uses song as narrative device so beautifully.

amitabh bhattacharya writes some smashing good lyrics (i must say i really like his writing, often when a song gets me and i check to see who wrote it, it’s amitabh b) and pritam is looking for a new sound i think, there is a happy snazzy freshness there.

some bits of the story were sort of not needed, like a mean villain like coach, but it didn’t really mess with the main event. i was worried it might turn preachy, it didn’t. okay, a couple of hindi filmish touches, almost reassuring, like signatures they.

i like the feel of the film particularly. there is a funny sort of realism in it along with the hindi filminess. the screen is always riveting and gosh do you feel the storm and thunder of the wrestle. i sat there feeling the blows.

there’s much talk about dangal right now. some say it might be the highest grossing hindi movie ever, some think it should go to the oscars. i don’t know about all that. i just felt i saw a rare and fabulous film. and yes, it has a layered completely unthrowable message about being a girl, almost a metaphor for our daily unrelenting battle against patriarchy and the chhora obsession. and it is about the beauty of love.

have you seen the movie? would love to hear your thoughts.

dangal means wrestling. i am still a bit dazed by its dhaakad.

re nikkar aur t-shirt pehan ke aaya cyclone
laga ke phone bataa de sabko
bachke rahiyo baaghaR billi se
chandigarh se ya delhi se

wearing shorts and t-shirt, a cyclone has come,
call everyone and tell them,
to keep away from the dangerous cat,
whether she is from chandigarh or from delhi..

zaira wasim, little as she is, has an innate power, there’s something about her. suhani bhatnagar too is delightful.

just saying

have you seen seeta aur geeta? in that 1972 movie too geeta was the wild one who was always ready for a dangal. hyuk.

watch dhaakad hai


all videos and visuals courtesy uploaders/google. the lyrics of dhakkad hai are from


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  • Reply
    Archana popli
    December 28, 2016 at 2:11 am

    I want to see it but have to find a theatre.nearby as here Indian movies are not seen in Cineplex s .Usually have to go to Chicago to see it.i live the concept of girls being equal to boys especially in India where even today it not safe for a young women to go out alone in Delhi and diff parts of the country .

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      December 28, 2016 at 9:31 am

      hi archana, once it used to be a hike to see hindi movies in singapore too, but now the big ones release all over singapore in cineplexes. it’s a welcome change. i hope you see dangal and like it. when i gush about a film, i am always a bit worried… what i may like, someone else may not. it is a lovely tale nonetheless and the girls i truly feel are outstanding.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2016 at 2:43 am

    Hey there indi,
    How are you? Wishing you a wonderful 2017.
    Thank you for this review… I have not seen the movie yet, but am planning to this weekend. The preview seemed very interesting… Sort of Chak De style… you know a feel good movie… So I was certain that I wanted to see it and of course take my 17 year old along, coz it seemed like one of the rare Bollywood movies which would not have nudity or vulgarity. The question that you have definitively answered is whether i wanted to take my husband along. He is a harsh critic… has no compunction whatsoever to announce loudly in the middle of a movie, in a crowded theater… WHAT UTTER NONSENSE! laughing. He sees no reason to not share his review with others whether they want it or not. So it’s done… this will be a family night.
    Now wouldnt you say that I have been exceptionally patient? So where is my reward? How come I don’t see an Arnav story (sorry… I meant an Arnav Khushi story) from your pen. Waiting ( and looking to hire a homing pigeon)!
    Love and regards,

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      December 28, 2016 at 10:10 am

      sam ji, haye… what the, shut up, get out… kuchh chahiye tumhe? khu… i mean, sam. by now it should be apparent i am bahut khushi (and asr) to see you. happy new year, dear one. okay, i will allow kabootar to glare at me and get some writing on the important issue of naam free pyaar done. actually, i do miss those stories, dammit. let’s hope kabootar hasn’t lot his touch.

      about hindi films. for some time now, they seem to have been taken over by aliens. there’s such a loss of identity, which item numbers (strange bizarre thing) and taking off clothes and actually kissing (oh wow) and being size zero (i always think of it as brain size) and youtube promos and their million hits and talking big about how important this or that film is and being nephew/niece/partner/son/daughter of big name in films and talk of how much money was made the first weekend and all that and more just won’t fix.

      the aliens are in control.

      there’s no writing any more. and the love of movie making, of weaving such weird fantasy that people will fall for even if they know it’s not at all “real”, has fled. everyone always wanted to make money but they had a thing for making movies too. and hindi cinema created its own language and rhythm. also, despite all the formula and phillumness, the creators, almost all, were super talented. especially the ones you didn’t see, the lyricist, the music director, the singer, the director, the producer… and then you had actors who were often found in strange places, not in your own home (okay maybe a kapoor or two, but in general). there are movies from back then which i sometimes watch on my computer. still touching, still gorgeous. in fact, thanks to current tamasha they feel even better than they felt when i first saw them. i see the glossy new films at times and i realise, mostly the art has fled. the confidence, the ken.

      so, your husband’s all caps what utter nonsense i so endorse.

      i didn’t really know what to expect when i decided on the spur of the moment to see dangal. i am a bit done with aamir khan… but i have liked some of aamir k’s movies: lagaan and taarey and yes, i sort of enjoyed the intensity of mangal pandey. i had carefully avoided all the viseos and noise about aamir k gaining weight, losing weight, whatever for his new film. the haryana girls had told a powerful story during commonwealth games, which were extremely botched by our completely corrupt politicians (suresh kalmadi: item number). there were five of them i seemed to remember. this is the story of two of them.

      i felt like watching. i am glad i did. the girls are to my mind astonishing and outstanding and they basically take over the screen. this was supposed to be aamir k’s character, mahavir singh phogat’s story, but really, it’s allabout the chhoris.

      hope you enjoy it and if you don’t, um, that kabootar is to blame, samjhi tum.

      • Reply
        December 28, 2016 at 10:48 am

        Aur… aur… aur… Tum theek ho? Sigh…. When they made that… they broke the mold. Everything before or since then… What can I say? The poet said it better

        Bas uss ke baad chiraghon main roshni na rahi

        So have mercy Indi… kuch to likho…

        Now indian movies… I really don’t have much to say about them. My movie watching over the past quite a few years has been dictated by the young dictator in our house. Every once in a while I get time off for good behavior (laughing) and watch one with a friend. Our record is dismal I have to admit. There have been a few good ones, of course, but they are few and far between and always far away from the formulaic productions. And item numbers… who thought of that, you think? and why in the name of all that’s holy? Now no worries… No blames shall be assigned regarding Dangal.

        So… how about some new year’s resolutions? and then sticking to them, girl!
        Love, regards and hopeful looks,

        • Reply
          indrani robbins
          December 28, 2016 at 4:31 pm

          thankfully, i have never been much of amovie goer, had i been the loss of hindi cinema would have bothered me mucgh much more. achha, likhti hoon… esolutions, huh? 🙂 🙂 see ya, sam.

  • Reply
    Rupali Dutt
    December 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    A bold film, an inspiring journey, a breakaway from conventions, an applaud for conviction, a victory of the human spirit…. a story that touches the innermost core of the heart and ignites the mind. An epic portrayl of how the mind can charter one’s journey in life. A brilliant movie, a true Amir Khan presentation. He never settles for mediocrity.

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      December 28, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      hi rupali, thanks for reading. yes, a bold and beautiful film. was so good to watch.

  • Reply
    Archana popli
    January 1, 2017 at 10:58 am

    I just saw the movie lion .That’s a must see as the little kid has done a masterful performance and dev Patel and Nicol Kidman are very good .The story is so inspiring and shows you the live between a mother and son the bond between them .

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      January 2, 2017 at 1:32 am

      i have been hearing about lion… will definitely see it. thanks, archana, for the recommendation.

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