| Sarjit Kaur | Roti for the Soul | Asia Samachar | 31 Dec 2016 |
Dangal is a Hindi term for – wrestling competition. It is based on a true story of how a father lives his dream of becoming a wrestling champion through his daughters. This sports drama film is produced by Nitesh Tiwari and stars Aamir Khan as the father cum coach who fights against society and its norms to raise daughters as tough, medal-winning wrestlers. A very inspiring and moving story which would appeal to sports enthusiasts, sports event followers and those who dare to dream!
A Sports Story
Geeta Phogat was India’s first female wrestler to win the gold medal for the 55 kg category in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, while her younger sister Babita Kumari earned the silver medal in the 52 kg group. Babita went on to win the bronze medal at the 2012 World Wrestling Championship and finally bagged the ultimate gold medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Mahavir Singh Phogat, a Haryana wrestler, gave up wresting due to financial difficulties. He hoped for a son, to win the elusive gold medal for his country. But after four girls, he lost hope and packed his glorified medals. One episode of his daughters’ beating up boys in the village after being called names, brought new hope and opened his eyes to their fighting potential. He realized his DNA was very much alive in them. He starts training them the art and strategies of wrestling. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The story describes the journey of sportsmen and women, their ups and downs and sacrifices in their pursuit for the ultimate gold. The girls go through a grueling training regime – from diet restrictions to a daily 5 am routine workout and the need to wrestle with boys to develop endurance and staying power, much to the denial and rejection of the community and society.
The message conveyed was profound. The first is – Dare to dream and never ever give up on your dreams – be it as parents or children. If you believe enough, have faith, persevere and execute, that moment of truth will arrive. Life holds a special kind of magic for those who dare to dream, so continue to chase them.
Second, it delves on liberation and women empowerment where it encourages the women of India to carve a future for themselves and not be forced into child marriage or live the stigma that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. The story goes on to inspire them to unconventional and uncharted professions like wrestling. And so the need for champions like Geetha in the movie who becomes their conviction and role model to take the road less travelled. The movie has also been used as a social campaign aimed at creating awareness on the need to protect and educate girls and eliminate the practice of selective abortion of females in India.
This story would inevitably take you to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky and the determination strung in – The Eye of the Tiger song. The suspense on winning the much awaited gold medal also brought me back to the Women’s Singles final badminton match between PV Sindhu from Hydrebad and Carolina Marin from Spain. Sindhu became the first Indian woman to win the silver medal at the Rio Olympics 2016. She won hearts in India and all over the world and created history with her stunning display of talent, power and grace.
Closer to home, Malaysia won 3 gold medals at the Rio Summer Paralympics 2016 in the men’s 100m sprint, men’s shot put and long jump event. I watched the touching video of Ridzuan Puzi, our first gold medallist in the 100M sprint, hugging his coach, Jeganathan whom he regarded as his father, with tears in his eyes and holding his coach’s hands on his forehead as a mark of respect. They had a special bond and language that only they understood. These heroes dared to dream. And their determination and persistence paved the way.
The actor in Aamir Khan
Amir Khan is well known to take on roles that convey strong, relevant and impactful message. He focuses on the bigger picture and real issues in life. He is counted amongst the actors in Bollywood who will go the extra mile and any extent to do justice to his roles. He portrays the character to the skin. He was simply brilliant in Dangal!
We remember PK, where Aamir acts as the straight faced alien who comes to earth in search of God to help locate his remote control. He befriends a television journalist and questions religious dogmas and practices. With zero knowledge on human convention, he was the most appropriate and neutral spokesperson to question the relevance of certain human behaviour in our current time and age. He subtly made us realise that we have compartmentalized ourselves and forget that we belong to one race – the human race.
Aamir underwent rigorous workout sessions. To play the middle aged Haryana wrestler, he had to put on almost 25 kg in six months for the first phase of the film’s shoot. Thereafter, he went on a drastic weight loss program. He travelled to a ranch in Arizona with doctors and personal trainers to help focus on his workout which comprise a combination of hiking, cycling, walking, swimming and weights and a special diet which he followed religiously. This man sure does what it takes!
Thru the lens of the Girls
Credit goes to the two new faces who played his daughters in the film – Fatima Sana Shaikh as Geeta and Sanya Malhotra as Babita. It is a debut film for Sanya, a trained ballet dancer from Delhi. Fatima is an Indian actress and photographer. The girls went through an 8 month wrestling training before the shoot of the film. It involved major fitness and coaching regime requiring much energy and dedication. They had no prior training in wrestling and hence had to start afresh. The training was essential so their wrestling in the film would look authentic.
Thru the lens of the Producer and Mahavir
Nitesh Tiwari met Geeta and Babita, Mahavir Singh, their coaches and other family members prior to making the film. He spent 9 days with them to gather information and personal insights on their story. On his way back, he knew that their story had fantastic ingredients. The only challenge was how interesting a dish he could make, with the given ingredients, as he puts it.
It was a gruelling session for everyone in the team. The actors had to get the body language, Haryanvi dialect and the sports right. The production team had to get the aesthetics right – the costumes, backdrop and shooting at real locations rather than building up a set. There were clear expectations to meet.
In an interview, Nitesh explained that when you when you talk to a person about their story, there is a tendency to hold back certain things. When a person is interested in your story, it is an interesting prospect. However you would also be anxious on the outcome and whether it would mirror your story.
However, as the producer, you understand the overall circumstances and build it creatively during the script writing. The changes or modifications made were minimum. After reading the screenplay, Mahavir Singh Phogat told Nitesh, “It is as if I knew you since a child”. There was an unexplained connection between them. It was also Mahavir’s way of telling Nitesh he has his blessings for his story and movie.
There are many intuitive quotes on the subject of – Dare to Dream. These are some of my favourites. Eleanore Roosevelt says – Dare to dream the impossible. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Oprah Winfrey alludes that the biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams. And Neemisha Ramchurn has this to say – It is not important that our dreams are grand and amazing. What is important is that we dare to dream. Our dreams give us a sense of purpose and meaning to life.
Two of Aamir Khan’s lines encapsulates the message in the movie. He looks at Geetha before the final round of games and tells her that the gold is not so much for them, but for the children out there who will be inspired and know that they are capable of becoming world class champions.
His other women-empowerment script was – “A gold medal is a gold medal no matter who brings it – a girl or a boy”.
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