A few days I had an email conversation with a friend of mine on the movie Dangal. She said she hated the movie for the following reason:
Mr Phogat, played by Aamir Khan, foists his wrestling dreams on his daughters. While the girls go on to excel at the sport, this does not take away from the fact that Mr Phogat is undoubtedly a patriarchal figure, who actually may need therapy over his unresolved issues, my friend says.
I could understand her line of reasoning, but I presented some counterpoints:
If you switch wrestling with, say, academic excellence, which would certainly ring a bell with most of the audience, then you would not have a movie. (Actually, academic excellence may be the wrong term. It's just acing the exams that we are after.)
For, that's what it is about: your parent making your career choices for you and making you bring their dreams to reality.
Yet, there's also a few other things to consider here: there comes a point in the movie where the girls realize they are privileged for having wrestling as a career option as compared to a life of domesticity. Here's where they stop pushing back and own their father's dream. Of course, you may ask what choice do they have?
But if we do find joy and meaning in what we are doing, does it matter so much how we came unto that choice? Does it matter that there were other roads (worn out though they maybe)?
Thing is, yes if Phogat weren't in rural Haryana, he should have been consulting a shrink. Or, if he was asking his daughters to ace the JEE exams. But because he is in rural Haryana where female-male ratio is one of the lowest in the country, the choices he makes for his daughters definitely make him swim against the mainstream, and thereby qualify him to be a hero.
Yes, he is making the decisions for his daughters, but would feminists be happy if he were not to? That is, if he were to just accept that wrestling was not for his daughters and married them away?
If you remove the particular circumstances of a story, you end up with a controlled environment. But then all human reality would more or less be the same, removing perhaps the necessity for art and its criticism.
Dangal can be looked at from the alternative education viewpoint, too and you would arrive at much the same points and counterpoints. Phogat’s way of parenting is very much mainstream, parent-led rather than being child-led.
But does the outcome justify the means? Again, this is not an easy question to answer. For, if it were just mainstream academics that the father was pushing the girls into, the answer would be straightforward enough. However, in rural Haryana, if Phogat hadn’t exposed his girls to another possible world for them, they would have hardly had a chance at life, much less sporting excellence. How would the girls know what they had in them if their father hadn’t shoved them into the akhada?
But does that validate the rat race Indian parents enter their children in, with the justification that they know what’s best? Hardly, I’d say. Still, this movie does pose some tricky questions.