On Wednesday Dangal, won the award for the Best Asian Film at the 7th Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards.
Dangal, a biographical sports drama, based on lives of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his wrestling champion daughters, did not only win critical acclaims, but has done stupendous business both in India and abroad.
For the first time, we saw a film, where a father is shown battling the conservative society that he lives in to train his daughters as wrestlers. The true story from which it is inspired is what makes this film so important for girls in India.
The film is set in Haryana, which is notorious for its poor sex ratio and high rate of female infanticide.
The film does not shy away from the portrayal of social reality. The father pines for a son, who will win a gold medal in wrestling, that he could not.
His desperation rings a bell with many people in the society, who want an heir to the family name. In such cases they either keep producing children till they hit the genetic ‘jackpot,’ or opt for more incriminating methods of foeticide and infanticide.
This is where the film takes an important turn. The father realises that his daughters are capable of doing what he expected a son to do. After all, good genes show no gender bias. Mahavir goes on to train his daughters, just like he would have trained a son. He challenges social convictions by making his elder daughter fight with male wrestlers in local tournaments. A key lesson to Indian fathers that their daughters can compete with men and win, if given equal opportunities, support and training. This training can be physical, emotional or educational.
The Phogat sisters in real life are world-class wrestlers today. Geeta Phogat won the first ever gold medal for India in wrestling at Commonwealth games in 2010. Her younger sister Babita Kumari Phogat followed the footsteps of her sister and won a gold medal in wrestling in 2014 Commonwealth games.
But the film goes beyond chronicling their achievements. It also shows their struggles with their father’s strict attitude and more importantly womanhood. It raises several questions. If a woman wants to succeed in a man’s world, does she have to compromise with her feelings and desires? In the film, when Geeta tastes her first pani puri in ages, or grows out her hair and paints her nails, her compromises for success seem to be so unjustified. But it is an on-point reflection of our struggles as women to achieve success.
Every working woman struggles with work-life balance. In their struggle with brave harassment and gender inequality, they adopt a ruthless, no-nonsense avatar. Even a smile at workplace comes across as an open invitation to flirt.
The box office success of Dangal should encourage movie makers to make films which showcase parents who fight social dictates and motivate their daughters to strive for success. This is essential because such films encourage people to break stereotypes. Just as Dangal inspired a 478-year--old akhara in Varanasi to open its doors for women wrestlers. But at the end of the day, for the society, it's not about the success or critical acclaim. It's about the change. It is about the conversation it has started. If this movie changes the thinking of even a single Indian father, that is daughter is not inferior to a son, then it is indeed an important film for the girls of this country.
PC: The Indian Express