By: Samar Khan

I’m sorry, Salman Khan, but Aamir Khan‘s wrestling-based film is clearly the best of the year. In fact, it seems Salman Khan agrees with me, as his Facebook page illustrates:

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Salman Khan’s thoughts on the brilliance of Dangal.

That is how good the film was. As our review title suggests, Dangal takes a film that has Mr. Perfectionist himself, Aamir Khan, as the star and uses that star power to deliver a film that addresses gender inequality in India and does it well. 

—MINOR SPOILERS BELOW—

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Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat in Dangal.

PLOT/WRITING

The story within the script of Piyush Gupta and Shreyas Jain is simple but extremely powerful with its message: a National Champion-level wrestler from India’s Haryana district hopes for the birth of a son that he hopes to mold into a World Champion-level wrestler but is blessed with 4 daughters only. After years of sulking, an innocuous fight between his daughters and some village boys inspires him to train his daughters to achieve the goals he hoped a potential son would accomplish. Cue 2.5+ hours of his daughters’ evolution over the years through heartbreak and triumph.

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Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat in Dangal.

The film could easily have been one where the father coaches his daughters to victory and celebrates at the end. However, thanks to the true story it was based on, the writers make sure to focus on how the daughters of this wrestling champion overcome societal and gender norms to accomplish their dreams and emphasize the integral role women play in even the most patriarchal of societies.

Aamir Khan plays that National Champion-level wrestler, Mahavir Singh Phogat, and embodies the film with a gravitas that allows the film’s message to both reach a wide audience and be truly meaningful.

The film clocks in at nearly three full hours but unlike recent films that felt as if they dragged on for a little bit too long (hello, Dear Zindagi), at no point does it overstay its welcome; rather, the film makes effective use of nearly every minute of its runtime which is a marvelous feat.

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Aamir Khan, Zaira Wasim, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Suhani Bhatnagar and Sanya Malhotra make up part of the cast of Dangal.

ACTING

If one was not a fan of Aamir Khan after classics the likes of LagaanDil Chahta Hai, and Taare Zameen Par, this film will ensure that each naysayer appreciates his versatility and willingness to take on projects that go against the norm. In his lone film of 2016, Aamir Khan makes it count, bringing his unique ability to emote intensely through the most minute of facial cues to exuding passion via just his eyes. Long considered a Top 5 actor in all of India, Aamir solidifies his claim to a spot in that list by delivering an excellent performance of a father that goes through a plethora of trials and tribulations just to see his daughters excel. His weight gain throughout the film is insane and shows how dedicated he is to his craft that he literally put on weight and changed his posture to emphasize his character’s evolution through the years. After the spottiness of the Haryanvi accents in Sultan, it was quite remarkable to witness Aamir Khan’s delivery in that dialect. Method actor, indeed.

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Zaira Wasim as Geeta Phogat, Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat and Suhani Bhatnagar as Babita Kumari in Dangal.

As difficult as it may be to believe, Aamir wasn’t even the best part of a film that he delivers a classic performance in. The 4 individuals that played his two daughters over a 10-year span were the true stars of the film, combining intensity, comic timing, and emotional nuance to shine in their own ways. Zaira Wasim and Fatima Sana Shaikh played Geeta Phogat in early adolescence and adulthood respectively while Suhani Bhatnagar and Sanya Malhotra played Geeta’s sister Babita Kumari through her adolescence and adulthood. Kudos to the director and casting team for finding females that not only looked how an adult version of the younger characters would be but also for finding actresses that were willing to wrestle on screen in extended scenes that showcased actual wrestling.

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Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat and Sakshi Tanwar as Daya Phogat in Dangal.

Sakshi Tanwar plays Aamir’s character’s wife, Daya, and despite a limited role compared to the rest of her on-screen family, she provides that motherly foil to Aamir’s intense father that helps humanize our lead star. Ritwik Sahore and Aparshakti Khurana play the girls’ cousin, Omkar, in youth and adulthood and both shone brightly in comic segments that had the theatre laughing and “aww-ing” with their “genuine-ness”. Sahore, in particular, shone in the first half as the girls cousin-turned-wrestling-partner and is one actor to watch for in coming years as a potential future star.

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The event that kickstarted the story of Dangal.

SOUNDTRACK

I loved the soundtrack. It was difficult not to enjoy it, as every piece of music in the film complemented the period perfectly and was sung to perfection. The highlight of the film was another Arijit Singh song (surprise surprise, eh?) as his rendition of Naina was arguably his best song of the year. There is one wedding song early on that was both hilarious and amazingly catchy, a surefire bet to be played at some weddings in the near future.

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An example of the dialogue in Dangal.

The score overall was immense. Just marvelous. From the periodic drumming of “Oh, Dangal, Dangal” to the requisite deep booms when an obstacle/slight twist was introduced, the score was used appropriately throughout and should serve as a lesson for Bollywood on how music should be used sparingly and not hammered at the audience.

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Zaira Wasim as Geeta, Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat and Suhani Bhatnagar as Babita in Dangal.

ASSORTED MUSINGS

Major kudos again to the casting team for the film on its actor selections. Going into the film, I knew nothing about the intricacies of mat wrestling and had never watched any such events. I was enthralled throughout and amazed at how each and every actor that stepped foot into a mud-pit or on the wrestling mat (including Aamir himself) engaged in wrestling bouts that both looked good and did not utilize stunt doubles. Coming from Sultan‘s ludicrously fake looking wrestling and MMA bouts, Dangal’s focus on educating the audience on how mat wrestling works was a welcome bonus without being boring.

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Fatima Sana Shaikh as Geeta in Dangal.

Kudos again to Aamir Khan, who took a backseat to allow a powerful story to be told without having to be the centerpiece of the film. While his name and aura carried the first half of the film, the second half allowed Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra to take center stage and they shone brightly. It isn’t everyday an A-list star is willing to put aside his ego and reduce screen time to allow the story and his co-stars to take the spotlight so Aamir deserves special commendation for doing just that. Sultan tried to address gender inequality but came woefully short of doing anything, turning into a typical Salman Khan film by its end. Dangal, on the other hand, did not even incorporate a love story (I KNOW, RIGHT?) in favour of focusing on its women fighting to gain acceptance. Utterly amazing.

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Fatima Sana Shaikh as Geeta and Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat in Dangal.

I’m loving Bollywood’s focus on adapting the stories of real-life sports heroes and while the quality tends to steer more towards misses (Azhar), the hits such as Farhan Akhtar‘s brilliant Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and now Dangal show that this is a market with rich potential. Let’s see whether Shahrukh Khan takes a stab at a sports biopic in the future.

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Suhani Bhatnagar as Babita, Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat, Zaira Wasim as Geeta and Ritwik Sahore as Omkar in Dangal.

So, in summation: Aamir Khan is wonderful, the wrestling is perfectly utilized throughout, the soundtrack is fantastic and the supporting cast delivers sublime performances. I think you know what that means: Dangal is the best Bollywood film of 2016 and one of the best in recent memory as well.

We here at The Film Lawyers are proud to grace Dangal with a grade of A (9.0/10).

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