Dangal (2016)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Dangal</strong> (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) I’ve been working at expanding my knowledge of Indian cinema beyond the usual masala clichés, and Dangal is a good reminder that there’s a lot more to it than song and dance. Under Aamir Khan’s supervision (he didn’t write or direct, but he produces and stars in the film, and there’s a clear link between this and his other recent movies), Dangal tells the story of a family in crisis over several decades: an ex-wrestling star father despairing over having two daughters, and then in seeing his girls go on to have success in his own chosen sport, upsetting a number of expectations along the way. (The film is considerably messier in practice, concatenating roughly three plot arcs in a single film and expanding its running time far beyond what we’d consider appropriate in more focused western sports film, but that’s how it goes.) The film is heavy on female empowerment from the perspective of an older man, an imperfect viewpoint but one that probably echoes the current inner fault lines within Indian society as more egalitarian values are challenging a traditionally conservative society. To be fair, Dangal‘s use of familiar tropes doesn’t break expectations (training montages being the least of them, although they are noteworthy for being where the film’s musical numbers are integrated in a semi-natural fashion), but its execution is nicely done. For western audiences, Dangal does feel like a throwback to an earlier kind of gently pro-feminist cinema but everything has to be graded on a curve appropriate to the producing country: what may seem old hat to Canadians may be radically progressive in India. [November 2018: After seeing a few more of Aamir Khan’s films available on Netflix and especially Taare Zameen Par, I’m struck at how many of his recent films adopt western conventions to tell stories of social issues digested in North America two or three decades ago but relatively progressive by Indian standards.] Aamir Khan turns in a convincing performance as a flawed, aging character (a feat made even more impressive by looking at the ripped heroic roles he played in other movies made a few years before Dangal), and the actresses playing the two daughters are quite good as well. Length of the film and multiple peripheral dramatic arcs aside, I had a relatively good time watching Dangal—it’s meant to be a rousing inspirational drama and it works as such.

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