We are still a nation that believes that abuse when of the sexual sort is something serious but not the other counts of abuse. Mental health is so far ignored that if it wasn’t for a section of the population acknowledging it; it would definitely have been a modern myth.
The sanctity of family is drilled so deep in our being that we believe our abusers would not stem from there, I’ve heard many variations of this – “A mother could hardly kill her child”, “Her father? No way, I think she is acting out, her father would never hurt her”. We have never given kids the fair chance to survive. We have kept so much of the truth away from them. The truth is your abuser doesn’t come with a category – it can be your family, your friends, the people you love and strangers who you know nothing about.
Dangal is a disappointment, and the people loving it are scary. I went in wanting to find something to appreciate about this film but I walked out with grief. The people loving the film, I have only one question to ask, “Do you walk into a theatre, watch a film and not observe the content of the film?”, if it so I will accept that your love for the film stems from a place of craft, though personally, I don’t believe there was much of that either.
I think maybe I understand why people might not find this film disconcerting, because we are a land well known to have children studying what their parents chose for them. When you’re forcing your own child on the path of righteous courses such as engineering and medicine, and you find that your intentions are not to be questioned as opposed to the dream you squash. Of course there would be nothing about Dangal that would distress you.
After all, it is a story of a wrestler with the national championship under his belt and nothing but dreams of winning international titles for his country, retiring for the need of income; disappointed with the birth of his child – as they are female, but still being a “good man” and accepting it (we need to stop awarding people for basic human decency like they’ve done extraordinary kindness). Then living in his world of regret until he realises that women can be sporty too and once that realisation hits him, he turns into relentless dictator who pushes his kids to fulfil his unfulfilled dreams. (When, as humans, will we collectively understand that you don’t birth kids and decide their futures, they are not the dolls you played with in your childhood. They are real, individual, unique humans that need to be seen as just that, and loved for it, and lauded for it).
He becomes their coach and as he tells his wife, he can’t be a father and a teacher at the same time, he has to be either one. So it hardly surprises me when Geeta comes back from her time at the National Sports Academy and when challenged by her teacher (Mahavir) , she beats him to a pulp. Let us understand this, if you are inclined and physically able, you will beat your abuser one day. I heard the audiences sympathise with Mahavir, why was it so easy to see him as a father figure being beaten up and hold Geeta responsible for it, while all this while he has been but a teacher and not a father. Clearly, fatherhood is a matter of convenience to narrative.
Mahavir very literally took away their identity but that was easily accepted because parents know the best for their kids know? NO.
Wake up and see that this is what is defined as a form of mental abuse, and you know what is also true, that human psyche is so resilient and delicate at the same time that to minimise the trauma it goes through, it actually starts directing itself to enjoy the abuse. This gives rise to new number of psychological disorders such as the Stockholm syndrome, which is defined as “a form of bonding between a captive and captor in which the captive begins to identify with, and may even sympathize with, the captor or whom they depend of survival for.”
So are you still going to sit there and tell me that movies are just movies and they don’t need to be held against and measured by the culture they fit in, and the message they are subconsciously distributing to the masses. Add a national anthem and a few patriotic moments that would have only been possible because of the abuser and the abuser is now a hero. It is the least we can do, to see these movies in the socio-economic context, to identify, to criticise. I am a filmmaking student and am constantly told of how much power a film holds unto itself, how it has been the opiate of the masses, how many people have found themselves captivated and changed with what we have put on the big screen. It may just be 24 fps, but what it makes is much larger.
Hence, I am disheartened that someone we recognise for his social morality has made a film that has so much of what we wish were the dark ages in them; making it relevant to today, to all the dreams squashed and feeling justified in doing so. And for anyone who comes up to me and says that Mahavir does acknowledge his tyranny over the girls, in that barely even 30 seconds scene, I will tell you this, admitting to something, being repentant and actually doing something to absolve yourself are all very different things.