By Laxmi Parmeswar, MA MS LPC
Let me first admit that I had not heard about these two remarkable athletes, their trail blazing careers, their father, their stories or their accomplishments at the Commonwealth games. So I cannot speak to whether the movie makers have taken liberties with the truth or ignored influential people in their lives or magnified other individuals who are part of their journey just for cinematic impact. In addition, I know as much about wrestling as I do about open heart surgery!
I saw Dangal on opening weekend (a rarity indeed!) in the US because of a recommendation from one of my close family members in India. The movie begins with an ordinary village dweller, a devoted family man victimized by his own shattered dreams, hoping to live vicariously through a “son” that he was not blessed with. This common occurrence is tackled in a clever and humorous way, focusing more on the vibrant, cultural reality of village living rather than passing judgement on the status of girls or women in India. And that’s what makes the setup to what comes later so meaningful.
This movie is less about girl power or equal rights/opportunities for women, and more about one family’s story where two girls achieved so much with so little. While there are many inspirational, truth-based movies like Will Smith’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” or Tom Cruise’s “Jerry Maguire,” Aamir Khan’s Dangal surpasses them as one that simultaneously tackles several important aspects like “goal-directed” parenting, “tough love,” love for country, the rigors of competition, the struggles amidst poor sporting infrastructure, and the personal & institutional barriers, not only to achieving success but sustaining it.
Life teaches us that the journey is as important as the final destination and this movie attempts to epitomize this simple truth by taking the viewer through a father’s dreams for his daughters and his unshakable belief in himself to bring his daughters to the finish line.
While he is deliberately and realistically portrayed as a flawed parent, Aamir’s character is still larger than life. One may be tempted to see that as inaccurate or exaggerated for cinematic purposes, but, in fact, it is a critical element of this atypical story of unprecedented success and athletic achievement of two women in the same family - and that too, from rural India!
The role of the mother in the girls’ lives is given less importance but her significance cannot be overstated. This is where the issue of “dominant parenting” in a two-parent household is skillfully tackled. My guess is that the movie tried to stay as close as possible to the facts as they knew it. The power-differential in the father-daughter relationship with both daughters is shown well and more importantly, the subtle differences in his relationship with each daughter leaves us with the notion that in effective parenting, one size doesn’t fit all! Additionally, the sibling relationship is handled with grace. The movie even addresses the importance of extended family support. As a family therapist, these aspects impressed me the most and I hope that they resonate with the audience.
Aamir’s previous films that tackled religion and a differently-abled child’s story, for instance were somewhat unimpressive and deeply flawed. With Dangal, on the other hand, he hits it out of the park. His textured performance, ability to emote and communicate the gut-wrenching, and heart-ripping aspects of parenting was very impressive. And more importantly, the performances of the two unknown girls and the whole ensemble create a final product that resembles a thousand piece puzzle, where all the pieces fit nicely together and makes us realize that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
And last but not the least, the lilting and soothing version of regional Hindi in the movie highlights the power of language and the rich backdrop of Indian diversity. This movie is a must-watch, even if you are not a therapist, or a parent, or the ‘right’ gender!