“Warna yahan haal yun hai ki, chhori paida ho gayi, toh sikha do ussey chulah chauka.. karalo ussey jhadu pooncha.. Aur jab wo 14 saal ki ho jaye toh kardo uske haath peele, chuda doo ussey peecha. Kardo usko aise mard ke hawale …Jisko usne kabhi dekha bhi nahi”
This dialogue is from a very powerful, beautiful and inspiring film ‘Dangal’ which is based on the life story of wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat who trains his daughter Geeta and Babita Phogat in wrestling against all odds who then go ahead and win Gold medal for India in Commonwealth games 2010 and Commonwealth Games (Glasgow) 2014 respectively. The story is not as simple as articulated in one sentence above; it’s much more than that! Let’s first talk about the regional context where the story belongs- that’s Haryana! According to 2011 census, Haryana had the lowest child sex ratio (it is defined as number of females per 1000 males in the age group of 0-6 years, in this case- 861) and lowest sex ratio (834/1000 males), and this state gives India their first female wrestler who wins gold in Commonwealth Games! The state which is ignominious for huge discrimination against women which starts right from the mother’s womb where the girl child is not even allowed to see the outer world lays the foundation not only for Geeta and Babita to conquer the world but also inspire other girls to unshackle the boundaries laid by the society!
The plot revolves around wrestling- a sport that requires lot of physical involvement and hence it automatically becomes masculine because girls are considered weak or so they think. Mahavir Singh wanted to win gold for India but he had to leave wrestling and join job because of his financial situation, but wrestling doesn’t leave him, he wanted his son to fulfill that dream for him but that dream also crashes down as his wife delivers 4 girls one after another. One day when Geeta and Babita come home after thrashing boys, Mahavir Singh realizes that they have potential to be great wrestlers. “Main hamesha yeh soch ke rota raha ki chora hota…toh desh ke liye kushti mein gold lata, je baat meri samajh mein na aayi ki gold to gold hota hai…chhora lave ya chhori!”
In our Indian society, a girl is socialized or conditioned to have feminine characteristics which gets reflected in having long tresses, fair skin, low tone, soft posture, wearing traditional attire and restricting herself to household chores. However the father starts breaking the gender barriers in terms of both social aspect by training them into wrestling which is predominately a masculine sport and physicality- wearing shorts, cutting their hair short, eating non-vegetarian food, leaving household chores to completely focus on wrestling. This particular scene when Geeta and Babita say that wrestling is not working out for them and gives many reasons for it including their beautiful long hairs. He gets their hair cut off- which is meaningful in terms of making them more strong, focused and thrashing the stereotypes!
Both the daughters are mocked and humiliated in schools and public spaces for their ‘mardana walk’, their short hairs, at the same time Mahavir Singh is called as mad man who is bringing bad name not only to his family but to the entire society, when his wife questions his intention “Apne Junoon ke liye chhoriyo ki zindagi barbaad mat karo” then also he keeps going ahead. Mahavir takes the girls to various Dangals where they fight with boys, and much to people’s dismay they triumph in each and every tournament.
Another very powerful and moving scene is where Geeta fights with her father Mahavir when she returns from National Institute, Patiala. Against what is expected out of a girl, Geeta full of ego and overconfidence becomes merciless and wins against her father, so she was brought up as a fighter, as a wrestler not as a timid girl who would get emotional seeing her father lose against her.
I believe that to excel in any field be it studies or sports lot of hard work is needed one has to push their limits beyond the comfort zone just like how Geeta and Babita are trained by their father to become wrestler, it can’t be denied that at such young age many don’t know their potential, what they want to become or what are ambitions, if at that age someone’s father guides them or train them- is it really wrong?
And then coming back to choice and consent- I agree they didn’t choose wrestling and there was no option of consent- but who is that person who decides these criteria at that particular age- the kids, father, you or me? The answer lies in the film itself not once but thrice- first when Geeta and Babita’s friend is getting married at a very young age, Geeta says that no one should have a father like Mahavir to which her friend says “Thara baap kam se kam thaara ko aaolad ka darja to de riaah…poori duniya se lad raha hai… Unki jaali kati sun kar chup hai. Kyun? Taaki tum dono kuch ban sako”
Secondly when Geeta is in National Academy, she totally follows her heart, she dances, grows her hairs, enjoy films and train according to her coach whose techniques are significantly different from her father. She loses all international matches following which she goes back to her father not because her father exercises control but because she feels that she is losing her dream of being a wrestler.
Moreover I strongly believe that no one just no one can fulfill anybody’s dream until it’s their own dream so it’s irrelevant to say that Geeta and Babita lived or fulfilled their father’s dream of winning the gold for the country! Talking about the climax scene when Geeta asks her father about the strategy for the final match in the Commonwealth games 2010, he says, “Kaal tu jeetegi toh tu akele nahi jeetegi…tere sath unki jaisi lakho chhoriyan jeetegi…aur woh chhori jeetegi jinko logo ne chhoro se kam samjha”.