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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.
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9 thoughts on “The problem with ‘Dangal’

  1. But before all that in one scene he realizes that they have it in their blood. He believes in their hidden talent from then on. Till that point he was of the opinion that only boy can bring wrestling gold medal. He changed his point of view from then on. I felt every girl child should have a father like this. He believed in them. He didn’t try to blindly impose his dream on them. He saw it in them. He stood for them single handedly when the entire society including his family thought otherwise. The ways he did to discipline them is not abuse I feel. It is the kind of training that sportspersons and military people get to build strong physique and stamina.

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    1. Hmmm, but I could be talented at anything…that doesn’t give my parents the right to impose insane kind of discipline, right? You are right…top athletes live like monks. But the difference is that they have signed up for it VOLUNTARILY; they are not forced. Yes, Mahavir stood up for girls and I admire him for that. I don’t hate Mahavir Singh Phogat…it’s just that child abuse is a huge problem in India. Children are not their parents’ property…they are individual human beings who have a heart and mind of their own. So many parents want their children to be engineers and maybe, a lot of them are talented too. But at the end of the day, it’s the child who has to be passionate about it.

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      1. From that scene onwards they did it voluntarily and with passion. The scene you have mentioned in your post. They achieved it all only because they believed in their fathers belief in them. Sometimes parental guidance is needed from a young age to nourish our talents. Had his child been a boy, Mahavir might have tried to make him a wrestler but had the boy been someone like their cousin, Mahavir wouldn’t have forcefully disciplined him for wrestling. He would have abandoned his dream upon realizing that his son doesn’t have it in him.

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      2. The things that Aamir does before the girls voluntarily decide to become wrestlers is abuse (according to me) and not just guidance. I guess we both have different definitions of abuse. Being strict is important but there is a thin line between strictness and psychological abuse.

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  2. That comment was bothering me for a few days now. I got my answer. I am a parent and a child. I don’t make my child follow any discipline. I don’t like any resistance she does from her end. I am not a strict parent. I can never be. She was interested in painting. I stopped sending her. After first few classes, teacher said she is talented. Towards the last few, teacher began to tell me she is disinterested now. So I told teacher that I will not send her till she is interested again. I said I don’t want to force her. Teacher said that will be better. I stopped music class also.. sa ri ga.. carnatic.. Teacher said she is talented but after few classes teacher said send when she is able to memorize or look and read her notes. Or either you make her practice. I don’t know music, but if I put effort I will be able to make her interested, I don’t know. I didn’t have the patience. So I said will send after she will be able to read. I am a child who resisted discipline enforcing by my parents from my childhood. Be it taking a bath, tying my hair, and what not. For studying they didn’t have to force me , somehow I was interested in that. But you know what , I wish my father was that strict like Aamir Khan character, then I will have known how to discipline my child. Or even force her to have medicines when she is ill. She refuses and I don’t force. For her health, medicines is good, but I can’t force her. I don’t like to . And I can’t also. Even, food. I am waiting for a time to see how she will eat after she falls in love with food. I wish I learned wrestling or something to get rid of that fearful me, from childhood itself. My father beat that bastard black and blue for my mother, and for me. I wish I knew to beat someone like that to just beat back someone who beat my brother for no fault of his own. I wish Sushmitha. I wish!

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    1. Like I said, there is a thin line. I feel you are comparing two different things. Needs and wants are not the same. You don’t have to fall in love with food…hunger is something that each human being feels…so your daughter will eat, even if you don’t encourage her to. Medicines are needs too. Strictness is important in many areas of parenting: for example it is important to tell your child that it is wrong to hurt others.

      Going to a painting or a music class is not as extreme as the measures taken by Mahavir in ‘Dangal’. Mahavir doesn’t even allow them to watch TV for a while, he doesn’t allow cheat days, he asks the barber to cut the hair…what’s wrong in the girls attending their friend’s wedding? They don’t do that everyday, right? Even a top level cricketer like Virat Kohli has a girlfriend! Even he parties sometimes! One needs to have a little bit of freedom. Just because Geeta puts on nail polish or grows her hair it doesn’t mean she’s wrong! It all depends on how an individual balances his/her life. I’m all for discipline but there has to be a limit to that too! And yes…even though motivation from parents is important…at the end of the day, the desire to excel in a field has to come from within.

      As per my father, I should get married because “it’s good for me”. What if he tomorrow forces me to marry a stranger just because “he is concerned about me”?? The people who support child marriage are also “doing it out of love” aren’t they?

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  3. I am not. The last para you wrote has a point. And all things you said about marriage function, nail polish, hair has a point too. About Virat kohli and girl friend.. not sure if it’s the same.. but somehow I am overlooking all that, for how the girls turned out to be. Winners in life, they always will be, fearless. Not for just medals

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