Nutshell Ramble

A film about sports and family that Bollywood needed after a set of underwhelming ones.

OVERALL SCORE – 4.5/5

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Full Ramble

Dangal is a 2016 Hindi sports drama film direcred by Nitesh Tiwari, written by Nitesh Tiwari, Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Malhotra. The film stars Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra. The film is a story of a father and his two daughters and the sport of wrestling which ties the family together.

Dangal is a film Bollywood needed after an admittedly underwhelming 2016. To begin with I would like to address a few things I read before I watched the film. A writer said that the film is an Aamir Khan piece with the women relegated to the sidelines. I would say, that is as off the mark as one can get. The three leads share equal screen time for most of the film and are quite well-defined as characters. The girls and the ladies are all convincing as actors and play off their coach/dad with a pitch perfect dynamic. The most eye-catching pieces throughout the film were the long, wide shots of the wrestling scenes. It is a clear showcase of the work put in by the actresses to make themselves convincing as the athletes they are portraying. The only wrestling match which is cut to death is the one with Aamir Khan which maybe due to his age and the fact that him wrestling might injure him more than help the overall product. This film is more a story of triumph for the ladies than Mahavir Singh Phogat and so the film cleverly relegates him to the role of a coach.

The family drama, interactions and motivations are handled well if not with a deft touch. The thoughts of the characters are put out to the audience in a very on-the-nose manner but it also helps at keeping the film moving along at a brisk pace. A deep character study could be done on a film like Chak De India because of one character dominating the others in terms of importance but Dangal needed to cut a few corners to achieve its narrative. It does not end up feeling cheap but it does end up feeling simplistic. The final act, however, redeems the film’s simplistic emotional palette. The fact that the main characters have clearly defined/focused goals aid the aforementioned simplicity.

There are a few moments of smart visual  storytelling even if they are underlined by narration. The title track sung by Daler Mehendi is as good a “lets go workout” song as any. The humor in the film, which is done in a refreshingly subdued way, is one of its primary strengths. The film does suffer from a few clichéd characters and moments but it is but a small gripe in film which is clearly trying hard to wrestle above its weight class so to speak. It also loses grip on one of its characters but an argument can be made calling it a wise move to not make the film a 3 way juggling act which could have ended horribly.

This film does stand above Lagaan or Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or Mary Kom or M.S. Dhoni or many others in my head. I would put it on par with Chak De India but the last two lines are a point of personal preference. A few reasons for this conclusion are mentioned above. There is a lot more to like and I would like the audience to experience it themselves. What the film has going for it is its lack of manufactured tension. Subplots which might seem meandering to the audience tie up to the main plot with aplomb. A film with 4 writers rarely achieves that. There is a lot more I can say about a few unwarranted knocks, I read, about the film, but thats an essay for another day.

If a film makes me raise my fist in the air in sheer joy at a few of its moments, I consider that a win. And if I am doing that with the feeling that the ladies in the film are achieving their goals rather than the supposed “star” of the film, it has reached a much higher plane. The film does what most big budget star driven films are too scared to do. It focuses on the story it has to tell rather than glorifying its stars. The dividends that approach pays is for all to see.

OVERALL SCORE – 4.5/5.

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