It is a wonderful telling of a true story that is poignant and inspiring as well as a reflection of the state of sports in the country. A paint by numbers sports movie where the underdog wins, you are happy to be manipulated into watching the story unfold.
Aamir Khan produces and acts in the movie directed marvelously by Nitesh Tiwari. It is the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat, an ex-wrestler who hopes his son will win the international medal in the sport. He has given up hopes because he only has daughters. But when he realises that his daughters have more spunk than he gave them credit, he trains them into becoming champions.
Now it's wholly predictable because the story is biographical. But Nitesh Tiwari has the rare talent to hold your attention throughout the telling of the tale, and has control of the star who generally tends to outshine everyone and everything else in his movies. Aamir Khan actually plays Mahavir Singh Phogat and the director manages to keep the star in check, without allowing Aamir a single triumphant see-i'm-a-perfectionist smirk. Mahavir the father and Mahavir the coach are two roles Aamir plays beautifully. Sakshi Tanwar, the perfect TV Bhabi manages to get into the role of Mahavir's wife.
The little Haryana town has been created wonderfully with all its eccentric characters and the story happens so naturally, you sit back and enjoy the popcorn. The training of Geeta and Babita, the townsfolk sniggering at Mahavir's efforts, the two girls and their cousin fighting the training tooth and nail then finally agreeing, the local 'dangals'(wrestling contests), the state championships, the national championships and so on...it follows a paint by numbers pattern. But the story is told from the point of view of the young cousin, forced to train with the girls, who grows up as one of the best characters we have seen introduced on screen this year. Actor Aparshakti Khurrana deserves kudos for keeping us glued to the screen by telling us the story in an engaging anecdotal manner.
The two girls Geeta and Babita are played by really sweet child stars Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar and they grow up to be Fatima Sana Sheikh and Sanya Malhotra. The little girls are just adorable. They try everything they possibly can to not become 'pehelwaans' their father wants them to be. They want wear nail polish, dance at weddings and eat chaat and pickles with their food.
The transformation of these kids into champion wrestlers is amazing. Indians tend to just look upon cricket as religion. This movie catapults and not so known sport of wrestling and bring it mainstream. Credit is hugely due to Aamir Khan for finding a cause for women's sports and the movie really, really works in that regard. Thankfully the preaching is restricted only to one dialog and it does not jar your senses that much.
Yes, the championship matches seem too long, but I suppose they are a necessary evil. They have been recreated brilliantly, and at one point in the semi-finals, the entire audience is holding its collective breath. And that's a triumph, isn't it?
This film has tears, patriotic heart-swell, happiness, frustration, anger, pain and everything you expect from a sports film. But it is wrapped in gentle humor and that makes this film a must see. It is a great way to end the year and will get counted as one of the ten best films of 2016.