In an important scene in ‘Dangal’, Geeta and Babita Phogat vow to tell their father, Mahavir Singh Phogat’, that they don’t like wrestling. Up until this point, the girls had to get up early, train, go to school, eat a strict diet,and train again. Mahavir also cuts off their hair. Geeta and Babitaare all set to rebel but before they give up their father’s dream, they meet their friend who asks them to be grateful for the life they are living. Unlike Mahavir, this friend’s father is only interested in his daughter’s marriage. The friend believes that Geeta and Babita are in a better position because their father wants them to excel at a sport. She points out that Mahavir has the guts to challenge the society by treating daughters like sons. These girls live in Haryana, which has a patriarchal society. Geeta and Babita are moved by their friend’s point of view and they decide to fulfill their father’s dream.
The problem with the film is that it normalizes abuse. The friend says that Mahavir is strict with his daughters because he loves them. But one doesn’t need a degree in Psychology to see that his love for them is bordering on abuse. It almost feels as if Mahavir has replaced male-domination with another kind of domination. The girls eventually decide that they want to be wrestlers but we cannot forget that they were once forced to take up wrestling. Ironically, it was Aamir Khan who talked about children carrying the burden of their parents’ dreams in ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘3 Idiots’.
This post is not to criticize Aamir Khan (it’s not his fault that Mahavir Singh is a flawed human being). Like many others, I have a lot of respect for his work and his choices. I understand that the story takes place in a state which is alien to me. But I hope that parents don’t imitate Mahavir and start forcing their children to do something they don’t want to do.