“Everyone has to endure 1,400 days of alarms going off – unless you take Sundays off. You can’t explain to people that most mornings something aches. Some mornings everything aches. But this life, and these hands blotched with torn skin that rower Saiyidah Aisyah has, this is your choice. This life where you have awful days, unwell days, unlucky days, rainy days, good days, birthdays, you can’t stop.
This is only one paragraph from Rohit Brijnath’s article ‘The Real Journey To Rio Is More Than Just A Flight’. This one paragraph here is Dangal, in a nutshell. Dangal, Nitesh Tiwari’s latest release, and fittingly, his long jump from Bhootnath series to this magical film. There’s no guessing what Nitesh would have become if he chose sports as a profession – a long jumper. And he would have surely got gold medal for India. Like this film, which is not less than a gold. And like many athletes, who look ordinary in their first two attempts and come back with a surprise move in their third, Dangal is Nitesh’s that last move. Bravo, he scales great height even during a long a jump.
A film on sports is the toughest to crack. A filmmaker is easily swayed away by an athlete, the glorification and sorrows of his life. The highs, the lows. Not all have the sense of understanding of what goes beyond the making of that athlete. The point that Rohit makes in the first para. There are many mornings when you don’t want to wake up. Your leg aches or some other body part. On some days, you are bleeding. Bleeding enough to cause an excuse for a break. But you don’t. You wake up and make a move. Days after days, hours after hours, years after years. To win that very second which decides who has the last laugh.
Geeta and Babita Phogat’s life has not been any different. Dangal, however, focuses more on the elder sister and a film has its limitations. Nitesh chooses to stick with her success story. The film, however, does not remain a success story but an overall journey of an athlete. Before entering the cinema halls, there were possible doubts that the film might overplay feminism. That daughters of the country will take lead and the athlete will die down. Good that all these doubts subsided in the 161 run-time of the film.
The struggle of 12 year olds to wake up at 5 in the morning and the strictness of a father to make superwomen out of his daughters is beautiful to watch. Possibly, for once, you might think that Mahavir Phogat is overdoing it. He is putting his stubborness before his daughters’ likes. But in the process, you realise, that is how an athlete is built. In a sport where, at 30, you are considered close to retirement, it is imperative to start as soon as possible.
The charm of the young Geeta and Babita is, initially, the push factor in the film. The transition of the young Geeta from running away from practice to asking her father when the next ‘Dangal’ is, is a smooth ride. Another moment in the film where Nitesh Tiwari wins.
Soon, Mahavir’s dream becomes his daughter’s dream as well. They fight and win. Fight and win. Confidence oozing up.
In between the journey from not wanting to wake up at 5 to choosing to grow her hair, Geeta travels a long journey. More than the distance between her village and Patiala where she trains. It is a journey not all women in Haryana villages can travel alone. She and her family are a bit nervous of how would her father react when he sees the grown hair. But the power to take these decisions, however wrong or right they might be, is actually given only by her father. I wish Geeta never cropped her hair again. And won the next matches with the same hair flowing over her back. That would have been a strong message. Alas, it was not to be.
The masterstroke from Tiwari comes in the climax. He made the obvious look so exciting and thrilling. Something which Neeraj Pandey could not do three months back. Who knows who had better ingredients?
Geeta choosing to fight her own battle herself is a moment to remember. Her father won’t be there at every step. That moment describes the whole film. That you are not someone’s daughter. Or someone’s disciple. You are you. An athlete in the field, on the mat. You need to decide for yourself. She finds herself drowned. Almost drowned. A gold medal at stake and the last few second left. How important are the last few seconds for an athlete. Important? Very important? Those are there between you and a gold medal. Those hours of sit-ups you do, running, practice and what not. You are drowning and you want you father to be there to tell you what to do. But he had already told you a long time back. You have got all the answers. Look within.
Mahavir, on the other hand, awaits the result, not knowing what is going on inside the stadium. He finds himself locked, not by choice though. His daughter finds herself drowning, but she still has a choice to make. She could give up or fight. She fights.
She wins the battle against the most fierce opponent in life, the fear of losing, two seconds before she wins the gold for the country. Those two seconds, after which she is given 5 points for pulling off a back flip on her opponent. In the last two seconds. Success stories in sports are often limited to these two seconds. Sometimes even less than this. But the importance of winning them is only known by the athlete who wins them.
Mahavir Singh Phogat, waiting, anxiously for the doors to open, is a sight to watch. Nervous, angered, tensed and then suddenly the tune of the national anthem touches his ear chords.
Dangal is not a film which promotes gender empowerment because Mahavir never had such intentions. He wanted his sons to get medals for the country. But he was not blessed with sons. With four daughters instead. His want pushed him to fight each and everyone in the village and community to get his daughters fight in the Dangal. And eventually, without even screaming about gender empowerment, he empowers his daughters.
Dangal, is a cinematic brilliance, for it understands the psyche of an athlete and the power of his or her dreams. It says that sports is above everything. Above gender, above religion, above class, above choices.