Primary job of any movie is to act as an anchor of conscience in a given society. This could be intrinsic or could be methodical. The purpose of movie or any art is to leave an impression, possibly a desirable one, on the minds of audience. Stronger the mark of impression, stronger the attachment to the movie and stronger the possible success of the movie, which does not need to be a commercial success alone. Singularly objective oriented movies have a definite message and they straight away go and get marked on the latitude of appreciation or rejection without any ambiguity. Large budgeted movies and large-audience-mobilising movies command structural position in making up conscience. These movies act as fair means to bring in uniformity in beliefs, identities, behaviour etc. in general public. Renowned French sociologist Durkheim, while asserting that it is the production relations which determine social solidarity in its organic sense, terms such building up of opinions through movies, religious rituals etc as mechanical solidarity of society which binds public together and , however, the same has its own ramifications in due course of life with respect to the production relations. (Durkheim, in such angle, gives a better clarity on how to interpret ‘base’ and ‘super structure’ relation in Marxist dialectics, which is important for Indian Marxists to comprehend while Indianising the class structure ).
With this small introduction on how to consider the importance of movie inbuilding up conscience, the purpose of critical review of social perspective of a movie is to ideologically facilitate the next step to combat the flips of the movie and ensure a realistic ‘organic solidarity’ remains intact through the existing production relations and thus contributing right perspective to moot the change in the society at the right spot.
Dangal is one of the well-made movies amongst the Bollywood products of recent times. This is another sports movie in the array of Bhaag Milka Bhaag, Mary Kom, MS Dhoni, Sultan etc. There is an imminent commercial demand for these gripping scripts. We see critics going overboard for all praise and sketch Dangal as a feminist movie. Any such movies of bombastic creation would invariably receive applaud from existing establishment for it conveys a message of protecting it too. This needs careful decipherment on where to place it between ‘latitude of appreciation ‘ and ‘ latitude of rejection ‘.
As everyone knows, or must have seen by now, being one of the largest commercial successes breaking all sorts of box office collection records, it is a movie about dream and passion of a father ( of a Jat family ) who is disappointed to have girl children but reconciles with his position and later brings them up against all social odds and makes his dream of winning medals for the country success through his girl children.
We shall first see the positivity of the movie before we really fathom the implicit contradicting messages the movie conveys to audience.
- A rural sportsman pursuing great level of passion and overcoming his difficulties in an unsupportive Government system and inadequate appropriate reinforcement of his belief in sports
- A man with four girl children brings them up and makes India pride in the process of achieving his dream
- He uses his senses in virtuous direction while his daughters, would likely have been, otherwise,normal “ bahus” with veil on their faces
To give its due credit, amongst all those conventional and routine commercial successes, this movie marks a difference in terms of attacking stereotype thinking of women by men.
While this is so, the movie has strong tendencies to carry the pro-establishment dogmatic principles. Before we really go to the bottom of accolades it received , we need to sift through the other possible combinations of making movie too with the same perceived spirit. It may be observed that the story is narrated through the eyes of the Lead male liberal role. This makes the audience to feel how difficult for them to pursue their dreams , if they have daughters and empathise the unwieldy position of the hero. The same story could have been narrated through the eyes of Mother, who too has sacrificed her bit and appreciating her husband’s passion. However, this idea would not have gelled well in the audience for the reason that the “male empathy” would be missing in that direction. Thus the Director is successful in not even letting the audience remember what is the name of the mother. This is not intended to give a fixed format of making movie and , however, the point is – there is a definite drift in assuming that movie carries anti-patriarchical ideas.
There has been an argument to support the idea and narration of the movie on the ground that it has incremental contribution towards the social attitude of men against women. In fact, this conclusion is not completely right. Every movie, which is a grand success , has always been showing hero winning over villains and there has been a positive message every time there is a commercial success except for big heroes playing negative but lead roles. This ‘ incremental good’ of this movie is actually superfluous in the large context of several such positive protagonist lead roles in Indian movies. There is a shadow of male dominating lead role looming in each and every clip. Every clip would convey that women could not have been what they are if a generous man cannot be behind them, which is true in reality too, but that cannot be termed as a message nor can be an idea campaigned for to counter patriarchy. Why are we so happy about incremental change, in first place, leave apart the commercial success of the movie ? How much incremental change can be given a due credit when almost all the movies in India are incrementally positive , in the same sense ? It is exactly the values, which the movie is overriding to make the protagonist role more glamorous, making a dent in bringing incremental positivity in the society. The movie clearly and explicitly overrides the anti-patriarchical values imminently as given below :
- Women, otherwise, without support of a male would have been pursuing their body ambitions of being cosmetic, would have been elated of being identified as a ‘ woman’ with all that ‘ sharmeela attitude’ etc. The question of independent women in the circumstances is posed as appalling, in the movie. In reality , it is highly challenging for women to be independent , but, it is not an appalling move or something to be flabberghasted to think their moving ahead without a man’s support. This is a strong weakness in the movie. This leads audience to think in the direction of carrying more protectionist attitude towards women.
- The lead role put them all up in pursuing his dream and his dream alone, nothing else. The audience is left to assume nothing other than that the women are crap, otherwise. Why should we mar our thinking that there have been several women in the country like Mary Kom who can withstand all the odds and they have capability to bring themselves up rather than waiting for countenance of a generous male ?
- The lead role instructs cropping the hair of his daughters and forcing them to wear ‘chaddis’, which is generally looked at as ‘ against convention ‘ of Indian women. While uncaring for what public determines in cutting down the individuality of each man and woman is well appreciated, however, the same is not adequate nor it is any where close to draw a conclusion that the movie went beyond a point of male liberalism. Rather, actually, this is largely a question of an enterprising male versus social perceptions.
- This movie reinforces a compromising thinking that women , better, should not carry any dreams on their own or, atleast, they need to be sheltered under some male guidance and countenance, which would always do a good for their future. This strongly undermines the fact that women are normal like any other man, as they too have dreams of their own and capabilities of their own.
The direction of analysis would be wrong if someone poses a question to choose between imagining Geetha and Babitha cooking in their kitchen , otherwise, versus attaining an achievement of national pride with a man’s support. This is akin to asking a person ‘ if you don’t like India , please leave ‘. Had Geetha and Babitha been working in Kitchen, if their father did not have a dream, so be it ! Who is loosing in the proposition – is it father or girl children ? It is clearly the father who would be unrest about non-achievement of his dream. It is not the disappointment that those girls have not got medal for the country which would be, actually, pinching the father, if you plainly look at the subject. This is akin to bourgeoisie thinking to support a large commercial project floated having no other option for creation of employment etc. If that being so, how upbringing up of Geetha and Babithacan be totally anti-patriarchical ? We need to factor in the motive of upbringing the women too, while counting on such upbringing , per se, if we really want to appreciatewhether the same stands as anti-patriarchical or male liberalist?
We also see – why at all, we need to pose such stringent bench marks for a normal male ? Let us understand what are the boundaries of this stringency and how they can be defined. What is stringent for father character ? While living for his dream and passion for an offbeat activity is not considered as stringent for father when his country spares peanuts on sports infrastructure. In such case, How expecting a benevolent male to graduate to next level to facilitate a girl’s vision can define borders of stringent expectations ? it is important to understand and absorb the fact that the father character is moulded by the Director deliberately not to go beyond friendly patriarchical character as this looks appealing to large populace living on patriarchical conscience and anything going beyond the same would pose a commercial business threat. The anxiety of many while defining ‘stringent’ bench marks and tune themselves to satisfy with least expectations is actually the reduction of maturity of audience. Facilitation of development of independent women in the present society is not a fiction. In fact, on similar note, bringing up a woman to become Prime Minister of the country too faces several stringent limitations and the movie on “ Jawaharlal Nehru “could be a better story to talk about. We shall not forget that we have stories like Jyothi Rao Phule who facilitated and supported a woman, who independently handled issues of women suppression in India. In such sense, while there are quite good number of stories of this level in India , as Director chose to play to the gallery, he carefully chose what suits the patriarchical conscience. On a similar note of observation on how Director exercised his discretion to suit patriarchical conscience, plotting ‘ Bharat Mathakee jai “ slogan by a small girl in the audience, when Geetha wins medal, looks artificial and seems to be imposing another striking compromise with patriotic nationalism. While Director could have shown his adept shooting skills in a better way, he could not move away from this redundant patriotic piece.
As a disclaimer, this review cannot go into the suspicions around the movie on how true is this ‘true story’, for its own limitations.
This movie is shot in the backdrop of the culture of oppression on women in an upper caste family of Jats, where honour killings are not uncommon. However, this culture should not be construed as identical in all castes across the board. The dalit and adivasis women are relatively better placed in terms of their independence as they don’t play a role of conduit to protect caste/jathi/clan like anybody else. Their underdevelopment is for the reasons less pertaining to patriarchy but significantly to the socio-economic conditions they live with.
‘Dangal’ scores high in terms of technicalities of movie like star cast, choice of locations, action etc. Its screenplay is one of the best. Aamir Khan’s commitment to the character is applaudable and, no doubt, that it is not that easy task to take up the father character. Fathima’s acting skills have been outstanding and looks striking on the screen in the gritty role.
The message it conveys encouraging males to be liberal facing the dastardly world to up bring girl children is quite appreciable in the given circumstances. However, the movie suffers with serious limitations in terms of obscuring the dream of facilitating an independent woman and goes with over-emphasis on exhorting audience , especially female audience, on helpless dependence on male initiative and support for development of women . It totally neglects the projection of mother role in the movie and not even her name can be remembered by the audience. Added to this, this movie purges the imagination of developing independent women and implicitly discourages the idea too.
Dangal is a good movie but not the best in its spirit and message. Dangal is desirable but significantly insufficient. Dangal technicalities are one of the best but the thematic presentationis average.Dangal highlights the penchant pursuit of a passion by girls but it excessively overshadows those characters with a dominant male benevolent father character.Dangal tried to embrace perfectionism through the image of Aamir Khan, as an actor, however, fails to go beyond average thinking of the gallery. Dangal gives out healthy entertainment to audience but considers audience as immature like any other movie.Dangal is appreciable but it is overrated. Dangal is a completely a male liberalist movie but still not anti-patriarchical !!
– P Victor Vijay Kumar is a writer and critic. The author can also be reachable either at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook ID “ P V Vijay Kumar “ for any further clarifications )