Commenting on a movie like Dangal is a tough ask. First up, the story is not your run-of- the-mill-drying-in-the-sun types. Secondly, it stars Aamir Khan, classified as a thinking persons superstar, so you know that he will not do anything silly. Thirdly, the very look of the film, the way it is shot, gives you a sense that it is different.
Its is easy to get caught up in this heady mix of a coming-of-age-true story of women against a patriarchal society and that too in a testosterone pumped up men-dominated sport in the country. Add to that, fine support casting, crisp editing and a foot-tapping musical background score.One might be tempted to think, what else do you need for it to be classified as a great movie?
Yet, in some sense, great movies should not solely depend on these elements don’t you think? There is something about epic movies, which makes you go hmm -that’s brilliant. Lets take some Hollywood examples :
- Remember the Titans,
- Raging Bull,
- The Blind Side,
- The Wrestler,
- Million Dollar Baby,
- ( Have to give a shoutout to Jerry McGuire!)
That lineup will feature in most top 10’s (in particular order) for everyone. Certainly,there are many more names, but these will certainly not debated. Do you see the common thread of greatness in these movies?
The most common factor was the internal struggle with the external struggle. They never got tempted to show anything else other than the main narrative even though each of these could’ve had so many alternate angles, sub-plots which could’ve been woven into the main story. But they didn’t.
Now lets look at some of the Indian, sports classics :
- Hip Hip Hooray,
- Awwal Number,
- Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
- Chak De
- Paan Singh Tomar
- Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,
- Mary Kom,
- M.S.Dhoni :The Untold story etc.
The above list is not in any particular order and while there are many more names, this list will have most of the names which comprise Bollywood’s top sports movies.What is the commonality you find here? Without getting too critical, you see a notable difference in the narrative, which is often punctured with too many sub plots and unnecessary songs which disturb the momentum.
While these were good movies in their own right, they missed the element of greatness, with the exception of Iqbal and Chak De, which were pretty close to being great movies. For the rest,its almost reads like – I’m not sure if I should make an out an out sports film, there has to be an element which rest of the crowd can enjoy as well.
Iqbal was great in its storyline but fell short in pace and editing. The attention to detail could’ve been much better.Naseeruddin Shah and Shreyas Talpade did evoke a lot of emotions. Chak De was a great movie as well, but it relied somewhat on star power, where Shahrukh Khan the star sometimes over shadowed Kabir Khan the coach. Perhaps SRK fans want exactly that! However,in my view, a star has to shed his image and mannerisms to get into the character. ( think Amitabh Bachchan in Pa was a great example)
That is where Dangal sets itself apart and launches into the upper league, where it does not shy away from being a complete sport film. Aamir Khan does not shy away from being the archetypal Haranvi Jat character , and I’m not talking about just the physicality of it ,but the whole package.
Notice the scooter,the check shirts,the worn out white kurta, the faded stole around the neck, also notice the rate of speech, the drawl and facial expressions all are in synch mostly. If this is not by design then there is no other way one can subconsciously execute those subtleties. And If it is, then it can be nothing else but brilliance.
The choice of the younger characters, and their commitment in maintaining the depth of the film is noticeable. The scene where the young Zaira and Suhani have their hair chopped off is just an example of the control in the scene.
The expression Babita ,Sanya, has when she watches her sister Geeta,Fatima, doing the wrong thing, ( by getting over-confident and ignoring her practice) is best seen in her eyes.There is an element of disapproval ,and element of helplessness and a hint of surprise in those short scenes.
The mother, Sakshi, conveys more with her eyes than words, the friendly cousin, Aparshakti, does not become a caricature, manages to hold on to his own in the middle of such strong performances. ( think of support cast for Sholay , they too had become so famous and loved, isn’t it?”)
The coach, Girish, was perhaps the least defined character. He has this look on his face which suited the character well, but the role defied the clarity that the other characters had.He is designed to be unlikeable, and to that effect he does a good job. But somewhere, the character , seems like a rejoinder.
Its like the movie was at risk of being too perfect and one had to have a wrong element to show the contrast. I’m not sure if it was by design or default, but there needed to be some more scenes, adding up to the gradual change in the characters stance as the incompetent national coach.
Dangal needed to be about 120mins. or less in length at best for a tighter grip, and leaving the audience wanting more. 160mins. does not have the same impact.This was perhaps a chance for Director Nitesh Tiwari to do a movie without an interval.
Dangal needed to think about how to design the climax. What could be the crescendo that would leave the audience gasping, or the gut wrenching pain that would churn every stomach in the movie theater? Needless to say, it is easier said than done.
So overall, Dangal scores, on most parts, which is quite more than its nearest comparison Iqbal or Chak De, and the fact that it highlights women power makes it so much more uplifting. I cannot imagine the impact, it will have on scores of women in most patriarchal societies in India. The sports federations which have a broken system will get a fillip.
I would recommend more filmmakers watch it for the cinematic experience as well and realize one can make great movies which are both critically acclaimed as well as commercial success.