Brand Strategy Blog

Why Dangal is an important film

By Ajinkya Shenava
January 02, 2017
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My bond with Aamir Khan started when I was very young. Before Dravid and Michael Jackson, he was my first real celebrity role model. When I was a child, I remember getting fired up by Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, punching my first in the air when Aamir beat up the goondas in Hum hain Rahi pyaar ke, and in splits as he charmed Raveena in Andaz apna apna. I remember writing a letter to him expressing my sorrow and anguish, and complete horror at him doing an A-Rated film Ghulam. How could he betray me like that? What about the millions of children everywhere whose mothers would silence them with that deathly stare developed through close proximity with particularly recalcitrant, stubborn boys who didn’t know better? What about real budding enthusiasts and critics like me who would simply not be allowed?
My mother was adamant. No means no. ‘ Do you know That Aamir didn’t let his kids eat chocolates? Only once a week. He even reads to them. He’s a strict disciplinarian yada yada’. I would listen to her and love the character that he was. There was a peculiar kind of code that drove his art and his life. a kind of earnestness and faith in something deeper, that remained even through his bad years.
Through all the criticisms thrown at him, his arrogance, and controversial statements/stands, his”marketing” genius (in my mind, a negative criticism) I had a part of me that wished him the best and hoped to see him emerge beautiful and creative, above the raging waves around him. And so, I followed him and his films even after I felt they were mediocre.
Aamir’s narrative is a strange kind of mirror. A reflection and forging of the world he lived in. His “social activism”, his snootiness, his fear and wish to move out of the country, his perfectionism (a friend describes him as the Daniel day Lewis of hindi cinema), his inhuming of character – every strand of his ideology and action was a signifier for a kind of cohort in India. A voice that was apart, that did not flow easily with the current, a figure caught between art and the popular. It was a vision that is neither inside not outside. When Aamir grew, he took on multiple roles of the creater and the marketer, the director and the actor, the observer and the doer, the creative and the popular. He gave meaning to the possibility of star as influencer. He took on this mantle with responsibility but approached it creatively.
Dangal is another step in this path. Cast in the sports coach biopic genre, it weaves familiar tropes of authoritative father, unfulfilled dream, vicarious fulfillment, tough taleem, conflict, unforeseen enemy, and final fantasy of victory realised through jingoistic patriotism. Another kind of hero’s journey. Aamir’s Mahavir Singh Foggat is as charred and marked as a war veteran. And it oozes out with the smallest of twitches. As he trains his two daughters to take on the world through Kushthi, an unfinished dream of his, a ‘guru’s’ gaze emerges. Aamir the actor recedes into shadow. We enter the universe of the teacher student relationship. I understand the nuance of dedication to an art. I even silence the voice that says this is selfish and exploitative. Because I know the beauty of taleem. I know what it means to sink one’s teeth into an art. The metaphor of Kushthi, the mud, the taleem the underdog and the respect for the text before self was perfect. For me it represented struggle, survival, constructive change, and liberation. If anything I would have liked to have seen more about kushti, more about the creative space, and the student’s journey, the social context from which a student became a practitioner. I enjoyed the negotiation of art and life through the various tribulations the girls and their mentor experience. I enjoyed the sweet taste of victory – the transition of training to action, of dependent to independent individual. For me, the arc of education to practice was complete. Even the little explored conflict between tradition and modernity, and styles or tarikas of playing the game – were interesting and illuminating for me.
As the anthem resounded, I groaned as the entire audience rose in one, my mind thinking up memes with situations where standing was either absurd or ridiculous. Still I didn’t let it cloud what I wanted to take away from the experience.
It was the conceptual journey of a man whose understanding of gender was questioned and transformed. While the only tools he had were hard masculine, traditional methods, he negotiated newer territories with it. It showed him, dragging along with him a stifling culture, kicking and screaming into the 21st century. He does this in his own, flawed way. With generous helpings of drama and chest thumping, eye drenching panache, Aamir, for a couple of hours let me dream in the language of the survivor, the struggle, the one who broke the mould.
I realised that, seen with detachment, and in the final analysis, the film and the discourses around it are a snapshot of the times we live in. It is important as a story of liberation, growth and change. It will be important in its influence. Both, in its life as a text, and in its existence through brand Aamir.

Ajinkya Shenava
Ajinkya likes to spend time thinking about the meaning of life.
He does this in between dessert breaks, and preferably with an epic background score accompanying his musings.
He believes deeply in the sentiment "poetry, like blood, must come from the heart".
About the Author

Ajinkya Shenava

Ajinkya likes to spend time thinking about the meaning of life. He does this in between dessert breaks, and preferably with an epic background score accompanying his musings. He believes deeply in the sentiment "poetry, like blood, must come from the heart".