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Dangal (2016)

CRUMBLIES…4 crumblies

Oh, the joy! Another sports film from Aamir Khan, but this time he’s the Dad and has had the decency to pile on a ton of weight for the part. A true story (ish), it’s the tale of a man with a dream: to have wrestling sons. His chromosomes gift him daughters, but who says they can’t fight? No one, except the traditional, the socially presumptuous and village gits. So on comes the wrestling competition: Dangal.

Vibrant Vinay and I were feeling heavy the day we watched this. One samosa too many left us stuck to the sofa. You’ll understand our belches of joy as Khan waddled onto screen. He’d piled on a ton of extra Khan, added grey (and later white) to his hair to give his character – Mahavir Singh Phogat – the air of dignity you see round these corridors on Father’s Day.  I know, senior ladies – sexy. The power of silver hair and flab.

Khan knows what he’s doing. As a young man, he gives off energy and sadness as his own dreams of wrestling glory fade before family needs. Into his middle years, jaw softening, he twitches with the comedy of parental shock: girls then girls. Then into full, porky middle-age as the girls come home having beaten up some rude boys (as per Mary Kom (2014), classic themes are playing out here…)…and wrestling becomes an option again.  The sporting stuff aside, old Jack felt for the physical deterioration and the sudden hope of this man as he transfers his dreams to his girls. And things go – as they must – really rather well.

As with Mary Kom (2014), the dramatisation of this ‘true’ tale gets a bit convenient in places, but the film is so smoothly made that reality is irrelevant. Khan does the medal room schtick as you’d expect. And the girls – two actresses per daughter – battle their way through montages of matches at a terrific lick. Older daughter Geeta has further to go: Zaira Wasim cuts her hair and fights like a tiger; Fatima Sana Shaikh succumbs to the smugness of the Indian Wrestling officials, abandons her father’s approach, and stops winning. Younger daughter Babita supports Geeta, eventually stepping in to heal the rift following a ghastly incident with their father; Suhani Bhatnagar then Sanya Malhotra give her a telling distinctiveness. The younger child has the emotional wits of the pair.

And the ghastly incident? Geeta goes away to the formal training camp and comes back a bit of a dick – and one goaded to break the laws of courtesy and respect all over her father’s back. In a fight that escalates from scruffy to look-away-oh-the-pain, she defeats pudgy Khan…pointedly explained by others as the weakness of his age not the inferiority of his technique. The TV room went very still. I’ve learnt to give way to my kids as they are giving way to theirs, but, you know, it’s a fight and Dangal went there…

And so to the Commonwealth Games and a ton of melodrama. The team coach is a tosser (Girish Kulkarni making you want to reach in and throttle him) and Geeta needs to follow her Dad’s instruction…and have him there in the crowd. Thank heavens for Babita and…in the end…a touch of telepathy…

Vinay and old Jack here nearly cracked the arms of our chairs watching the last reel. Dangal is urgent, fun, sporty and covers its lack of surprises with a sparky energy. Modern India flows through it, supporting her women and casting a cool eye on bureaucracy and tradition.

The cast is terrific. Khan, well, you can’t knock a man who piles on the pounds for veracity. His performance gives the film a meaningful centre. All his daughters convince to an alarming degree in the wrestling scenes (and old Jack here thinks he understands the rules now…if not the haircuts…) as does their training cousin, the poor Omkar (Ritwik Sahore becoming Aparshakti Khurana) who takes a ton of comedy beatings.

Get thee to iTunes. Yup – you gotta buy this one.

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