Wrestling the Box Office

On Friday evening, I went with my parents to watch Dangal, the new Aamir Khan movie. There have been a lot of videos floating around Facebook lately of Aamir Khan’s “transformation” for the movie – how he gained weight and body fat and then lost all of it (Raging Bull-style). The movie isn’t really about him, though – it’s about his daughters, Geeta and Babita. It’s a biographical movie about Mahavir Singh Phogat, a Haryanvi ex-wrestler, now… ah… heavyweight? I mean, Aamir Khan was over 30% body fat when he played him in the movie, so he’s certainly no featherweight, at least according to the movie.

The main plot of the film is that Mahavir Singh, a professional wrestler, has to give up wrestling because he’s not part of the WWE and, as such, is broke. His biggest regret upon leaving the sport is that he never won a gold for India – which is weird, I’d have been more upset that I didn’t cash in on the UFC craze when I had the chance (Sultan… wink, wink). He hopes that one day, his son will win a gold medal for India. However, his wife gives birth to – in quick sequence – four daughters and not a single son.

Disappointed, because he believes that women can’t fight, he gives up on his dreams, until one day, he goes home to find that his daughters have beaten up a couple of boys. In a sudden revelation, he realises that women can fight and decides to train them. My favourite part of the movie happens the following day, when he leads them to a pani puri stand and invites them to eat all that they want, as they won’t be allowed to eat it while in training. He then begins some really hardcore training schedules, making them run early in the morning and shearing their hair off until they look prepared to play a role in “Saving Private Ryan“.

Ultimately, both his daughters win the National Championships, and the movie ends with his older daughter winning a gold in the Commonwealth Games. I really liked the movie, because for the first time in ages, we had a Hindi movie that wasn’t overdone – at least for the most part. There was no sight being restored to the blind à la terrible special effects and a statue of god, no brothers reuniting and crying, “Bhaiyaaaaa!” For most of the movie, they even followed the actual events of Mahavir Phogat’s life with moderate accuracy.

We watched the movie in the single-screen Vaibhav Theatre, a theatre that is frequented by at least as many rats as people. The movie ends with the Indian National Anthem being played and the Indian flag being hoisted, and – and this is probably the most amazing part – everyone in the theater actually stood up. Until Friday, I had never seen a rendition of the national anthem where everyone present and listening stood up. However, being the cynic that I am, I suspect that this sudden outburst of patriotism had less to do with the movie and more to do with the fact that we’re now legally required to stand when the national anthem is playing. Now we know what Modiji is doing instead of issuing those 500-rupee notes we need so badly.

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