My Dangal Review

These days, I am blissfully ignorant of the latest movies coming out of Bollywood. The wife still keeps a tab on them and it was she who told me about Dangal.

Once I learned about the movie’s sporting theme I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it. You see, movies about sports tend to be a predictable fare - a prodigy is discovered, training for a big event starts, setbacks are encountered but they are eventually overcome and the story culminates in the protagonist’s ultimate triumph (despite unfavourable odds) in a big international tournament. If the movie is about a team sport, then the setbacks include episodes of friction between members of the team. Eventually, the team comes together as one with help from a long, inspirational speech from the coach in the final moments of the movie. Inadvertantly, such movies tend to be peppered with generous doses of jingoism.

When we were in Singapore a few days ago, I somehow managed to convince the wife to watch Rogue One with me. When Dangal released in Amsterdam, that too in a theatre close to our house, there is no way I was going to be able to wiggle out of watching it with her.

For once, I am glad I went.

The movie does loosely follow your typical sporting movie template but it never gets dull - helped in some measure by its unusual theme of women’s wrestling in India. It chronicles the journey of Phogat sistes from their birth in a small village in Haryana to their success in the women’s wrestling event in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Now wrestling is a sport your casual sport fan probably knows nothing about. Thankfully, the narrative includes a scene where you are educated about the rudiments of modern international wrestling so that you can follow the protagonist’s guaranteed triumph better.

Spoilers Ahead

Since this is a movie and not a documentary, some creative liberties have naturally been taken (in fact we are told as much in the opening credits of the movie). The rivalry between the protagonist’s father (a former national wrestling champion and her mentor) and her national coach came across as exaggerated. That this rivalry should end with the national coach conspiring to get the father locked into a storage room in the stadium during the final match of the tournament, felt a little ridiculous. Truth, especially in India, is often stranger than fiction. Perhaps such an episode really did occur, but the sense I got was that the movie tried a little too hard to manufacture a clear villain out of the national coach. Also, the final match, judging by the scorecard I found on Wikipedia, was probably not much of a cinematic thriller in real life (at 0-3/0-8 it didn’t even go into the 3rd round).

I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the unnecessary histrionics in the end. The pacing was perfect, the dialogs were crisp and the songs were carefully employed to move the story forward. Given the general neglect sports - especially women’s sports - suffer in India, the achievements of Phogat sisters are very significant. I am glad their story is being told.

The Dutch subtitles that accompany foreign language movies released in Amsterdam, always make for an interesting study of things that get lost in translation.

A simple utterance of शाबाश (shabash) from a father to a child sometimes doesn’t have a direct translation in another language. In Dutch it got translated as Ik ben trots op je”, which in English would translate to I am proud of you”. I guess they could’ve gone with goed zo” (roughly well done” in English) - but that’s something I hear used by parents offering encouragement to a toddler learning to walk and perhaps would be misplaced in context of a father congratulating his gold-medalist daughter.

The subtitles here not only convert quantities uttered on screen in imperial units to metric units, but also change the emergency numbers to local ones (e.g. 911 is translated to 112). This time I noticed a couple of other interesting phenomena.

In one scene, a girl is heard in the background reading from her English schoolbook:

B-O-Y boy

which in subtitles became

J-O-N-G-E-N jongen

Jongen being the Dutch word for boy. That they would translate something being read aloud letter by letter was surprising for me.

In yet another scene, the protagonist’s father is having a little altercation with the national coach about his daughter’s poor performance in past wrestling matches owing to the coach forcing a defensive strategy. He uses an analogy about a player’s natural game” from Cricket - a sport you apparently cannot escape from in India even in a film about women’s wrestling. He says that what the coach was instructing his daughter to do, was the equivalent of telling Virender Sehwag to play like Rahul Dravid.

How does one translate something like this to another language for an audience that knows nothing about cricket, let alone the batting styles of Indian cricketers? Well, they chose not to use cricket in the subtitles at all. While the exact Dutch used here escapes me, the translation said something to the effect of telling a tiger to behave like an elephant1.

The songs often get a very literal translation and don’t make any sense at all.

As you can probably tell, I no longer find Dutch subtitles in theatres here distracting. I almost look forward to them!


  • The movies shown in theatres in Amsterdam don’t have a notion of intermission. Indian movies are no exception. Despite their length and the explicit inclusion of an intermission frame, you don’t get a break. Which means one must remember to go in on an empty bladder and then go easy on the fizzy drinks.

  1. good’ol India - the land of snake charmers, tigers and elephants. You can’t blame them if Virender and Rahul sound like names of dieties from the mystical Indian pantheon. Actually, given that cricket in India borders on being a religion, they actually are.↩︎

December 26, 2016