"Geeta, I can train you. I can teach you how to wrestle. But remember, in the ring, you are on your own. Your father will not be there to help you". In "Dangal", Fatima Shaikh who plays Geeta Phogat pauses, takes a moment and remembers her father's words before she proceeds for the closing seconds in the finals of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This real life story of India's first ever woman to win the gold medal in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games and a father who coached his daughters relentlessly is hugely inspirational.
The biggest success of "Dangal" is that it gives as much or even more weightage to the girls than it does to Aamir Khan. Aamir Khan plays Mahavir Singh Phogat who had to give up wrestling in order to make ends meet. Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar are the actors who enact the childhood portions of Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari respectively. Fatima Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra play the older girls. The movie starts with its focus on Aamir Khan's dream to win a gold medal for his country fulfilled through his daughters. But the narrative quickly shifts to the girls when they find it too tough to cope with their father's stringent training methods.
Geeta and Babita are humiliated at school when their friends call them "men". Their hair is cut short like that of boys and without their permission. They are not allowed to eat food that they like. The writers spend time and care in portraying how the girls' attitude toward their father and wrestling takes a U-turn after a conversation they have with their friend at her wedding - when they realise she's been unwillingly married off at the age of 14.
"Dangal" at this point touches upon our society's outlook towards girls as wrestlers. When Aamir Khan takes Geeta for her first real competition, she is first rejected by the co-ordinators because they wouldn't allow girls to wrestle. But they immediately reverse their decision, realising that there would be a larger crowd to watch a girl fight. A large crowd does arrive but then they start commenting and making fun of her dress and looks.
As the movie's second half starts, the girls have grown up and the story mostly revolves around Geeta as she goes through conflicts with her father's and the new coach's training techniques. There are also ego clashes with her father. How she resolves them and cruises through the CommonWealth Games forms the rest of the movie.
Aamir Khan looks every bit the character, having put on weight and making us emote along with him in each of his moments of joy and sorrow. But it should be said that the movie's real stars are Zaira Wasim and Fatima Shaikh - especially the latter All the young girls and women have gone through enormous hard work and pain to learn the art of wrestling and it does the movie wonders. But it is Fatima Shaikh's moves, especially in the Commonwealth matches, that make you feel you are watching a game for real.
Fatima is also a phenomenal actor. Her expressions when she is embarrassed by her father in front of the children in her village or when she looks out for her father in the stadium during the finals stay with you even after the movie. It is to Aamir Khan's credit that he once again gladly allows a co-star to shine above him in a movie.
"Dangal" starts off as Mahavir Phogat's story but ends up as Geeta Phogat's. This is the story of a woman who fought against all odds and humiliation to fulfill her father's and her own dreams .This is the story of a woman who proved her people, those who did not accept girls as wrestlers, wrong. This is the story of a woman who in the process also inspired several other girls of the nation to follow suit. "Dangal" is not an Aamir Khan film. This is a Fatima Shaikh-Zaira Wasim film. It is a must watch.
Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.