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This Is Why You Shouldn’t Become A Mahavir Singh Phogat

Aamir Khan’s ‘Dangal’ is a wonderful biopic but we need to question the ideas it propagates.

Published
Entertainment
5 min read
A poster of <i>Dangal</i>.

Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.

There was not a moment I blinked while watching Dangal. The film was so wonderful: the acting, the direction, the music, the cinematography.The lyrics all were perfect to the setting. The film was truly a ‘slice of Haryanvi life’. I have watched several interviews of the real life heroes Geeta Kumari amd Babita Kumari, who have confirmed that this piece of fiction is an accurate depiction of facts.

This is how biopics should be. True to life and devoid of the taste of your personal biases or intellectualised understanding. Brutal if it is, so be it. Dangal could have two effects. One – you could watch it and applaud the film as a classic (which it is), second – you could watch it and then start emulating Mahavir Singh Phogat in your life.

Please stop there. Don’t do the latter. It would disastrous if you start becoming Mahavir Singh Phogat. Mahavir is a progressive man, considering the regressive mindset that prevails where he comes from. He doesn’t drown his daughters in milk, and it is sad that we need to be grateful for that. He instead challenged societal norms when he decided that his daughters should participate in wrestling which is predominantly a male sport. I appreciate him for all that. But I have a few issues with emulating him in real life.
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Children Are Human Beings, Not Robots To Fulfil Your Dreams

Mahavir is upset that all his children are girls due to which “HIS” dream of having “HIS” pedigree bloodline winning a gold in international wrestling will never be fulfilled. And one day, when the girls beat up some boys, he realises that he can physically abuse his children.

He is the perfect example of a toxic parent who uses his child as a lottery for his dreams.

Many to-be parents, right when they are dating, decide what their children would grow up to be. The truth is that they could grow up to be everything you wanted, but nothing that they want or they are.

There’s a painful scene in the film where the mother, says “chhoriyaan hai, pair toot gaye toh” to which Mahavir responds “judwaa lenge

Slapping Children Is Not Okay

India has a culture of violence towards children. Many of my friends speak in jest about how they received pastings from their parents for being mischievous. It is considered normal to beat a child for disciplining. The same thing, if in Norway, would be considered as child abuse and the child would be taken off from the parents for the child’s safety. Abuse is generational in our country. It is in our DNA. Parents very proudly proclaim that they received pastings, and they slap their children exactly the same way.

Children are most defenceless when their primary caregivers become their prime abusers. We all get appalled when it comes to child sexual abuse, but this is abuse too. And it is not okay.

While none of the girls are slapped in the film, the film has a scene of a foster male first cousin of the girls being slapped.

Which brings me to the next point.

Why Bully Males?

(Extreme left) Ritvik Sahore as Omkar is a poignant character in the film.
(Extreme left) Ritvik Sahore as Omkar is a poignant character in the film.

The real story that touched me in the film was about Mahavir’s brother’s son, who’s also his foster son, Omkar. He seems to be the most vulnerable in the film. Living with his uncle’s family, he is being used by his uncle as a punching bag for his cousins’ wrestling practice. His pants are torn and re-stitched by his aunt without his permission because his sisters needed short pants.

And throughout the film, he seems to be a character who has no choice but to be a slave of his tauji’s whims and fancies. He reminded me of male child labourers on our streets, our restaurants and our homes where we take for granted that they have no dreams of their own and their only job is to respond to “chottu, paani laa”.

Women Are Inducted Into Patriarchy

The film has very powerful scenes of Mahavir pressing his daughter’s feet and showing his empathy. But then, he shouldn’t have been violent with her in the first place. Also there are scenes where the mother just watches when the daughter pleads to her when her father orders the barber to cut her hair short. We think horrible punishments like these is a good way to reprimand.

Sakshi Tanwar and Aamir Khan in a still from <i>Dangal</i>.
Sakshi Tanwar and Aamir Khan in a still from Dangal.
In our whole ma baap toh bhagwan hote hai rant, we forget that children are human beings. More over, we think that parents own their dignity and can dictate every aspect of their child’s life. Children need guidance and support, and not someone to act like a control freak. The mother seemed to be more pissed off that there was chicken cooked at home than her daughters being taunted, teased, bullied, physically abused by her husband. The mother, somehow finds the courage to revolt when chicken is being cooked at home. What kind of a parent is she? And what kind of a parent is he?

Please don’t emulate such toxic characters in real life. That’s how for generations, women have been inducted into patriarchal mindsets. Also, the mother seems to be more upset that she couldn’t “give a male child to her husband” than the husband himself.

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Why Is Being Effeminate A Bad Thing? And Why Is It OK To Slap A Male?

Speaking about patriarchy, the most poignant scene in this film is a sangeet function, where this 14-year-old girl is getting married and Geeta and her cousin brother Omkar (played to perfection by Ritvik Sahore) start dancing in swapped gender roles. And it is Omkar who gets slapped at the event when tauji (Mahavir) spots him there with Geeta and Babita.

That slap is the defining scene in the film that sums up the attitude of the society that cannot imagine a son being brought up like a daughter, but we take pride in bringing up daughters like sons.

I have a different opinion. Let’s not bring up our sons as daughters OR our daughters as sons. Let’s bring up our children as who they are, without imposing any gender norms on them. After, Dangal, more than ever, I long for a gender-less world.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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