A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dangal, in Hindi with English subtitles, is based on the true story of two girls from a small Indian village whose strict father insisted on training them with the goal of winning gold medals in international women's wrestling. This stirring movie, about striving for excellence and rejecting received wisdom of so-called experts, follows the girls as they unwillingly bend to their father's iron will and endure 5 a.m. workouts and humiliating haircuts. They come to appreciate how much the father's high standards and training methods reflect his respect for women. This is set in stark contrast to the fates many Indian women are relegated to: wife at 14, child-bearer, cook. Older kids, and especially girls, may be surprised to watch a movie that seems to be about an unfair dad that turns into a celebration of the strength and talents of women and girls.
What's the story?
DANGAL, which means "wrestling" in Hindi, is the passion of Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a talented amateur wrestler who never won gold for his country but longs to train his sons to fulfill his dream. When his wife bears daughter after daughter, he adjusts his plan, forcing his preteen girls Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra) to train like professional athletes. He cuts their hair off and drags them to compete against boys, humiliating them. The town disapproves, but Phogat bends to no one, imposing 5 a.m. trainings and workouts with a nephew to toughen the girls up. It's not until the girls skip training to attend a wedding that their eyes are opened to the fate of most Indian village girls. The miserable bride expresses her envy over their father's attention. She points out that girls are considered burdens until they're married off at 14, when a husband they’ve never met before takes charge of them, gets them pregnant, and relegates them to childcare and kitchen duty for the rest of their lives. Babita and Geeta train with enthusiasm from that point on, winning so many bouts that first Geeta and then Babita both earn spots on the coveted national women's team, which boards and trains them far from home and their father's wise and watchful eye. A vain and incompetent coach tries to erase their father's training, substituting an emphasis on technique that results in losses. As the girls learn to trust their father and appreciate his respect for them, they reject the coach, revel in their own passion for wrestling, and bring pride to themselves and their country.
Is it any good?
At times, this is an utterly thrilling sports movie featuring some of the most compelling fictional sports competition scenes in recent memory. Director-writer Nitesh Tiwari creates an unmistakable arc for each character that defies cliché even as Dangal does in some ways adhere to well-worn story conventions. A tough father/coach imposes his will on young, lazy beginners who want to avoid both feeling different from all the other girls and the grueling training imposed on them. But the movie transcends these banalities, partly through the use of well-placed songs with lyrics specific to wrestling and training ("Wrestle, O Wrestler!"), and also through a refusal to make excuses for the father and his harsh ways, even when he finally tells the girls he's proud of them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it takes to be a good parent. Should parents teach children not to care what others think? How can that be a good thing? How can that be a bad thing?
The girls were humiliated when their father forced them to cut their hair in Dangal. Why do you think after growing it out in rebellion, Geeta cuts it short again? Does she realize that being different can be something to be proud of? Does she do it to acknowledge all that her father had been right about?
Do you think the athletic training the girls received will make them stronger people? What are some of the drawbacks of being treated by their father that way?
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