Saturday, December 24, 2016


Dreams of Gold

When Mahavir Singh Phogat’s wife gives birth to a daughter, the entire village gives the couple supposedly failsafe tips on how to beget a son next. After four daughters, he looks crushed, his wife perennially stricken and the villagers feel sorry for them. The national wrestling champ could not win an international medal for India, and everybody knows of his dream of having his son win that gold.

Haryana is brutal to its girls provided they are even allowed to be born. In that sense Phogat (Aamir Khan) --the hero of Nitesh Tiwari's film--and his placid wife Daya (Sakshi Tanwar) are mildly progressive. But when Phogat sees that his two older daughters have roundly thrashed two local boys for teasing them, his eyes get that mad gleam.  A medal is a medal, whether a girl wins it or a boy, he reasons, and going against the whole village (the girls or the tearful wife have no say), he starts training Geeta and Babita  (Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar as kids, Fatima Sana Shaikh as and Sanya Malhotra as grown-ups—all of them giving sympathetic performances) to become wrestlers.

He wakes the up at the crack of dawn to feed them paani-puri, telling them it’s the last time they eat junk food. He compels them to eat chicken for protein, chops off their hair and deprives them of anything ‘feminine.’

This is the uncomfortable part of the film—the edge of patriarchy is not dulled just because the girls are being pushed into achievement. It’s not as if Phogat encourages them to pursue their own dreams, he forces his own ambition upon them and also on his hapless nephew (Aparshakti Khurana), who is dragged along to help the girls. Eventually, as they start winning the local wresting bouts, they revel in the sense of achievement (though surprisingly, there isn’t a bruise on their clear skins).

Because the film is based on a true story, the audience admires the dedication of the girls—any sport requires a punishing discipline and wrestling even more so.  Add a large pinch of patriotism to a story of an unlikely hero(ine) and the film is bound to work. It is well-directed and pushes all the right emotional buttons. The conflict is relatable—rebellion, pride, jealous national coach (Girish Kulkarni), who pronounces the father’s methods old-fashioned; Geeta and Babita’s winning spree is remarkable. 

In real life what the Phogats managed to do, is seen in a throwaway scene in which the father’s makeshift akhada has some more female students.  (And there’s Sakshi Malik emerging from the same feudal social mileu).

The film is undoubtedly Aamir Khan’s best—the star transforms himself into a middle-aged man, and his performance is outstanding in every way.  Every little emotion Mahavir Pogat goes through is reflected on the actor’s face.  His courage in making this film and doing the part cannot be denied.


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