While Aamir Khan’s sports drama Dangal has won over critics and the box-office (it entered the Rs.100 crore club in the opening weekend itself), one person is unhappy with the film’s representation of Geeta and Babita’s father Mahavirji Phogat. PR Sondhi, the wrestling coach who trained Geeta and Babita for three years, told Mid-Day that he couldn’t understand why Aamir Khan had to depict Phogat as a taskmaster, when in real life he was a “thorough gentleman”.
When asked by ANI about Sondhi’s question Aamir Khan said, “In every biopic little fiction is added but essence of their story is kept intact.”
Interestingly, if there’s one thing critics had a problem with in the film, it was the near-abusive patriarchal authority Aamir Khan’s character wielded. One critic even described the character as an “anti-hero” and a “madman”. Another pointed out that Dangal, for all the pertinent questions it raised, still followed the Indian cinema code of letting the larger-than-life hero lay down arbitrary laws, and tweaking the plot to subsequently justify his behaviour, no matter how outlandish.
PR Sondhi, who explained aspects of wrestling to the filmmakers during the shoot in Ludhiana, said, “They have changed the name to PR Kadam in the film, but somewhere the character is loosely based on my life. I have known Mahavirji (Phogat, wrestling coach and father of Geeta and Babita Phogat) for many years and he is a thorough gentleman.
The 70-year-old said he was aware that fictional characteristics are added to make a film more entertaining, but there seemed no reasoning for showing his character in such a negative light.
He found the climax sequence particularly objectionable, where one character is seen locking Mahavir Singh Phogat to prevent him from cheering for his daughter. Sondhi says he intends to speak to the Wrestling Federation about the issue. He added, “I also plan to meet Aamir and seek an explanation.”
When PR Sondhi met the actor during the shoot in Ludhiana, he said the actor had discussed basic questions on wrestling and told him nothing about the movie itself.
Dangal is winning over audiences for telling a great story with realism and charm about little girls becoming champions. It’s worth asking why Aamir Khan felt this could not be done without a fictional patriarchal taskmaster.