Aamir Khan's 'Dangal' delivers girl power through wrestling
Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan's new Dangal ("wrestling competition," in Hindi) is an extremely compelling story, based on the life of Indian amateur wrestler and Olympics coach Mahavir Singh Phogat, that is big on girl power—the girls being daughters Geeta, who won India's first gold medal in women's wrestling in the 55 kg freestyle category at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and was the first Indian woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics, and younger daughter Babita, who took bronze at the 2012 World Wrestling Championships and gold in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Phogat's background is beautifully established in an opening scene where the now-retired wrestler (played by Khan, in another physically challenging role) takes on an unaware challenger at his workplace, where the 1988 Olympics wrestling competition plays on a black-and-white TV. It turns out that Phogat was unable to achieve his dream of winning a gold medal in international competition due to lack of funds, but has since hoped to realize it through a son.
Unfortunately, he can only father daughters, but when two of them beat up a couple boys in school, he senses their inheritance of his talent, then puts them on a grueling training program, much to their—and their mother's--initial dismay. But the girls eventually come to understand that as coldly demanding as Phogat seems to be, and as much derision as they are forced to withstand at school and in their village, he is actually giving them a chance at a life of their own, rather than being traditionally married off as teenagers into subservience to men they've never met.
In other words, Dangal delivers girl power of the highest order. Geeta and Babita, who are ably played by two sets of young actresses to cover their growth from children to young adults, go on to compete and win at the international level, the selfish machinations of their professional coach notwithstanding.
And while there's little in the way of Bollywood masala dance routines, there are excellent songs composed by Pritam Chakraborty, with lyrics from Amitabh Bhattacharya that underscore the movie themes.
Dangal opens today in North America, Friday in India.