To call Dangal a feminist movie is wrong. It celebrates women, yes, but at the end of the day it is the story of a patriarch directing their fate, the women don’t really have a choice, writes Supriya Raman
I went to watch Dangal at a friend’s recommendation after she called it the feminist movie of the year. To be honest, this piqued my interest enough to be excited about the film. Mainstream bollywood rarely does feminism well, yet this year we had Pink, so I decided to give it a shot.
Yes, Dangal celebrates women, but at the end of the day it is the story of a father and his obsession to make his son win a gold medal for the country. When he doesn’t have a son, he imposes this dream onto his girls. Yes, they fight against the system and oppressive power structures of patriarchy, but these never translate into complete emancipation for them because at the end of the day, they do have to prove themselves to and for the sake of their father who takes on the regressive societal structures on their behalf.
When a friend tells the sisters, Geeta-Babita Phogat (Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra) that they should be grateful because their father acknowledged them with the dialogue, “Kam se kam unhone tumhein aulaad ka darja to diya,” it leaves huge dents in the feminist armour. It makes one think if he would have acknowledged them had they not taken on the burden of his dream and really challenged notions by making decisions that were not in popular view with him? Add to this, the fact that the role of the mother is relegated to the background and passivity.
Despite that, this movie will bring in a much needed discourse on how women are treated at homes in India. Which is commendable in its own way as it gives a very raw insight into the lives of women in most of India, some of the topics that it touches could’ve been delved into a bit deeper, but the fact is that would need another movie. Dangal positions itself as a movie that looks at emancipation through sports, but if that is the only lens we are looking at it from, then Chak de India did that feat far better.
Also, not to forget that despite the tagline of the film, Mhari choriyan choro se kam he kai?(Are my daughters any less than boys)?” and the promise of women empowerment, this film belongs to Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), who is the nucleus that holds the plot together as the ageing patriarch who is obsessed about winning a gold medal for his country.
And throughout the film, he never lets you forget that.
With his extraordinary physical transformation, as well as his story of a father quitting his job to train his girls, his struggle to maintain a professional as well as a personal relationship with them, as their father and their guru. His affection coming through restrained yet light dialogues such as kaisi hai pehelwan? It’s no wonder that he is called a perfectionist as Khan shines in his role. To be fair to Shaikh and Malhotra, they both match up to his standards as the feisty and witty siblings who are not afraid to get grisly in the akhadas.
What further weakens the whole empowerment angle is the nationalistic jingoism in the film which is littered with the obsession of winning a gold medal for India, leading up to the climax where it all spills over with overt patriotism— replete with the national anthem, Bharat mata ki jai and enough drama to make it every inch the masala movie that it is.
Watch Dangal for what it is, the remarkable true story of a man’s struggle to make his daughters into sports stars. Not for feminism. Leave that for some other time.