Dangal Review – Aamir Khan in his first biopic as the father of the wrestler Phogat sisters

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There have been a string of inspiring movies about empowering girls in sports recently in Indian cinema.  Just this year there’s been Sultan and the boxing movie Irudhi Suttru.  Dangal is not groundbreaking because it’s about the first women wrestler to win a gold at the Commonwealth games (and then the first Indian woman wrestler to make the Olympics.)  What’s groundbreaking is that Aamir Khan plays his age, and shows it.

He’s not the first of the three Khan’s to play a father.  Salman was just a father figure in Bajranig Bhaijaan and while Shahrukh Khan played a widowed father in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to little Anjali, he also was still acting like he was still in high school!  Aamir Khan took the bold step of actually playing a father of young adult girls with gray hair and a paunch.

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An Aamir Khan film is a true event since he is only making at most one a year, but it’s been two years since the blockbuster PK.  I’m glad he took the time to make this one right.  He’s so method that he gained lots of weight to show the older Mahavir Singh Phogat, and then lost it over months to play the younger wrestler in his prime.

From what I’m gathering some of the true events of the sisters Geeta and Babita and their coach and father Mahavir were changed for dramatic purposes.  But the basic outline remains.  They lived in a rural village in Haryana, an area that has one of the worst women to men ratios in India.  The film shows what the girls’ life could have been — married off by age 14.  Mahavir had four girls and no sons, so he decides gold is gold, and will train his daughters to be wrestlers to win gold for India.

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They took their time putting this movie together, and the casting is just exceptional.  The girls at the young ages are really good young actresses, and the older girls phenomenal.  Aamir lived with all four girls that were playing his daughters while they trained in wrestling together.  It paid off in a comfortable family relationship with the girls.  You can see the warm rapport they have with Aamir on the recent Koffee with Karan episode that aired last weekend.

aamir-dangal-trailer-759I loved the structure of the first half, as Aamir decides to train the girls in wrestling after they beat up a couple of boys (as we see in the trailer.)  The local wrestling school won’t let the girls train, so he builds his own mud arena for their training.  At one point the girls rebel against his strict regimen, and I loved how they impishly reset the time on his alarm clock and so on.

This is a film all about the relationship of a father and his daughters.  There is no romance subplot.  It’s another wrestling movie like Sultan, but it’s completely different than Sultan.  The conflict comes in Mahavir’s unwavering dream of gold medals for his girls and all that he puts them through to give them enough grit to accomplish it.

The second half conflict comes when Geeta reaches a level where she must move to another city to train with the national wrestling team under a new coach.  I adored a scene where the other girls on the team introduce her to DDLJ.  Geeta’s first visit home is quite bumpy in their relationship, and one of the most gripping scenes in the movie to me is when a quarrel over her new techniques learned from her new coach ends in Geeta and her father wrestling, and wrestling hard.  I actually gasped out loud it got so intense.

dangal-hd-imagesSince this is a real life biopic, we know the ending, but it’s the journey getting there that is so enjoyable.  It’s really an incredible story, and the neighbor I went with said she wants to take her young sons to see it.  It’s a great family film.  There’s no sex or bad language or violence.  It’s not bloody like boxing movies.  I was very glad of a nice little scene that explained the point system in wrestling so I could follow along when we got to the big matches.  The story is simple, and if it wasn’t real life, would almost be unbelievable that one father could train two girls to be gold medal winners.

Sports movies are really not my favorites, but I found the story really compelling.  Aamir is a driving force in the movie, but all four actresses really get to shine on their own, especially newcomers Sakshi Tanwar as Geeta and Fatima Sana Shaikh as younger sister Babita.  There’s a plot twist that I won’t spoiler that leads Geeta’s father to not be present at her gold winning match.  In retrospect, it was purposeful to show that she wins it on her own merit and grit – not because her savant coach father was yelling what to do throughout the match.

I’m glad they cast unknown actresses in these roles, because I could really just see them as Geeta and Babita.  But even Aamir, with so much screen presence truly disappeared into his role as Mahavir.  That’s a great actor.  He’s like Daniel Day-Lewis in that way, and equally devoted to his craft.  I applaud Aamir for getting this film made, as it has a great message, and not just for girls.  There are only a few songs, but they are woven into the film seamlessly, and make sense in their place in the movie.

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Shivaay – Awesome Action in this attempted mashup of Taken and Bajrangi Bhaijaan

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I love Ajay Devgn.  Unabashedly love him.  In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, I am totally Team Ajay.  One of my Desi friends expressed amazement that I like Ajay and was looking forward to Shivaay, “What?  He’s so ugly!” She’s still my friend even though I now wonder both about her eyesight and her mental acuity.  He has superb screen presence and can actually act, but he just has an unmistakable swagger as an action star.  The Shivaay trailer just blew me away.  We’ve never seen this level of stunt work and action cinematography in Indian cinema.  I had heard mixed things about Shivaay once it came out, but there was no way I was going to miss this film on the big screen.

With Shivaay, it’s almost like Ajay the director is trying to combine an action thriller like Taken with the emotion and family heart of Bajrangi Bhaijaan.  The action sequences are fantastic, and really thrilling.  They measure up to the quality of Hollywood films, and the Bulgarian scenery is just gorgeous.

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I absolutely adored Ajay’s relationship with his young mute daughter.  She was a terrific child actress.  Did she have to be mute? — maybe that was a way to get around the plot point that she doesn’t look like her Indian father and the actress wouldn’t be able to speak good enough Hindi.  As Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood points out, this is really a special father/daughter relationship on screen.  It has nothing to do with a daughter leaving home for marriage, and we have an adoring single father. raatein_shivaay_ajay_abigail

Why did this film not touch me in the heart the same way Bajrangi Bhaijaan did?  It has more serious peril with human trafficking by the Russian mafia, and a cute kid and all, I can’t quite put my finger on why it didn’t work for me.  Shivaay was just that much darker and had few moments of lightness and fun.  Ajay also didn’t have anyone supporting him of the quality of Nawaz or Kareena.

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There was maybe too much time spent in this romance plot with Polish actress Erika Kaar, who does not have the acting chops of Kareena Kapoor Khan.  The villains are also mostly interchangeable Eastern European bad guys.  The big reveal of the ultimate bad guy mastermind was pretty predictable, and the final battle was pretty damn awesome.  The title track by Badshah is great, but the rest of the music tracks also don’t have level of Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s soundtrack.

Ajay is a solid action director.  I wish the script had been a bit better, and aside from the delightful child actress, the supporting players of better caliber to match Ajay’s intensity.  I would still recommend catching Shivaay in the theater, because the action scenes look amazing on the big screen.  Ajay’s showing the way — you can play a dad, and still have swagger and cool.

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And wield wicked weapons like those rock climbing hooks!

Three and a half stars out of five for the great action.

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Sultan – It lives up to the hype

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If it’s Eid, it must be time for the big Salman Khan movie!  There has been so much hype around Sultan, for months and months, and one can’t help but worry that the movie won’t meet the raised expectations.  But thankfully, it does!  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I saw the movie together at the Indian MovieMax theater about 45 minutes from me.  It was quite the experience to see it opening night with a big crowd all dressed to the nines for Eid festivities they were going to after the film.

For me, Dabanng and Bajrangi Bhaijaan are two of my favorite Salman Khan movies, and some of his best work.  Sultan is good.  It’s very good, but for me, it’s not quite at the same level as those two movies.  Salman’s acting has moments of greatness in Sultan, and Anushka Sharma is simply amazing.  But the musical numbers in Sultan, while good, are not jaw droppingly great like in Dabanng and Bajrangi Bhaijaan.  Selfie Le Le Re and Tere Mast Mast Do Nain are extremely high bars to beat, however.  The songs in Sultan are pretty catchy, but I’m not running out to download the soundtrack, to be honest.

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Also, as I mentioned in my review of 1983, sports movies are not really my thing.  So a wrestling movie on top of a Mixed Martial Arts movie is not really my go to genre.  But it’s a measure of the strength of the movie, that I was completely sucked in.  My friend Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood have been wondering about the clues of the plot that we could see in the trailer.  Obviously there was some sort of tragedy in Sultan’s life, and we dreaded that he might be a widower in the second comeback half of the film.  I won’t spoiler what that tragedy is, but I can tell you that there is a happy ending and Anushka’s character does not die.

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I also wondered why Anushka Sharma agreed to be in a Salman Khan movie.  Her character is fantastic — a super strong wrestler, tough as nails, dominant even in a room of guys including Salman, and a fully formed character with her own flaws, firm to the point of being rigid at times.  I’m so glad she took on the challenge of this film.  She just keeps getting better and better with her acting in each film.

Salman meets her by knocking her off her bike and then hitting her helmeted head, not knowing she’s a woman.  Then she takes off her helmet and wallops Salman, as he stands there love struck.  He pursues her, but she rejects him as a suitor, telling him that he quite simply doesn’t measure up.  She is driven and has her goal to get to the Olympics, and he is just aimless.  Let me just say, watching Anushka verbally destroy Salman was really something to see.

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Their romance is what spurs Sultan to be a better man to win her.  To become a championship wrestler.  I loved their romance storyline, and Salman being sweet loving Sultan is fantastic.  What tears them apart is the key to him giving up wrestling.  Again, I won’t spoiler it, but those moments I really teared up, and were some of the most powerful in the film for me.

The framing of the comeback is that Amit Sadh is trying to get MMA off the ground in India, and needs an Indian fighter.  (Why haven’t we seen Amit Sadh more? – glad to look up and see he’s in the upcoming Akira.)  Randeep Hooda is the coach that trains Sultan in MMA.  Cue Rocky training montage.  (Seriously, there are so many Rocky homages in this film.)

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You’ve seen the scene in the trailer where Salman stares at his overweight belly in a mirror and breaks down.  What the trailer doesn’t show is that he then struggles to get his shirt back on, fighting with the sleeve as he cries hard.  It may have been the single best acting scene I’ve ever seen Salman do.

While the movie is pretty wonderful, there were some off moments.  Two of the MMA fighters are black, and at a press event the announcers refer in English (not just bad subtitles) to their owners, and not sponsors.  WTF??  Also, Salman refers to a the lightning quick style of one black fighter this way – “Is he more gorilla or chimpanzee?”  Again. W. T. ever-living F.??

That nonsense aside, the last fight is riveting, and I didn’t know what was going to happen which is uncommon in a sports film, believe me.  Much better MMA fights (like I would really know?) than last year’s Brothers.  It’s solid entertainment, and you’ll leave satisfied.

Four stars out of five.  Eid Mubarak!

Read Margaret’s spoiler free review of Sultan here.  And her full analysis with spoilers here on Don’t Call It Bollywood.

 

 

Nawaz Siddiqui in a Rom Com!

I just heard from the BollyFools guys that Nawaz Siddiqui is currently filming a romantic comedy with Amy Jackson called Ali.  Really excited to hear that he’s getting to be a romantic lead.  He is obviously a fantastic dramatic actor, but he really showed his comedic skills in last year’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan.  Ali is directed by Sohail Khan.