Yesterday, SG and I went to the movie theater to watch Dangal. Those of you who don’t know my husband and/or Bollywood may not immediately realize the significance of the statement. SG, the life partner who solemnly vowed to be with me through thick and thin, refuses to watch movies in the cinema theatre, citing ‘people and noise’. So this was our first movie date of the year, in the last week of the year. If it has to be one movie per annum, we better make it count, right? So Dangal is touted to be the movie of 2016 and has been highly recommended by every expert film critic (aka everyone who has watched the movie) on my Facebook feed and WhatsApp social group. In summary, it is about a hulking wrestler in a small village in North India, who decides to break away from societal traditions and teach his daughters how to wrestle and, through them, fulfil his dream about winning a medal for the country. Based on a real life hero, I was told, the movie is an absolute tear jerker and brilliantly made, the last word in feminism, the only tale worth watching on father-daughter relationships.
I was sitting there in the dark, all expectant, with tissues at hand, face filled with popcorn, waiting for the tears to come. I recently read somewhere (on one of those listicle pop quiz sites where one can find the latest research and evidence based facts and insights) that those who cry during sad movies have high levels of empathy. As the movie progressed, and I got increasingly sick on junk food, still dry eyed, I started worrying if there was something wrong with stone-hearted me. As wrestler girl # 1 rebelled by varnishing her nails, I bit mine in anxiety. As she gave it her all while lifting weights, I dug deep to locate the reasons behind my lack of emotions. And then it came to me, as I chewed on a popcorn kernel. Far from being a Tin Man, I was experiencing a tsunami of emotions. While the drama unfolded on screen I was having flashbacks of my illustrious athletic career.
EXTERNAL. SCHOOL PLAYFIELD – DAY
Green lawns glow with white chalk marks. Kindergarten children line up to run a race. Excited parents in audience.
EP, aged three and a half, with two (slightly askew) ponytails, is totally clueless. She pootles to the other end of the field as she is bored. All of a sudden, she is grabbed, put on a podium, and given a gigantic tea set as first prize. She starts believing that she is meant for athletic greatness. That running in the general right direction means automatic applause and bright red play things.
CAMERA PANS IN AND OUT
EXTERNAL. SAME SCHOOL PLAYFIELD – DAY
Green lawns glow with white chalk marks. Same set of children, now aged seven, line up in two rows some distance apart, to run a race. They wear tinsel garlands which they shall exchange in the relay race. Excited parents in audience.
EP, now old enough to understand competition and fully expecting to win, is hopping from one foot to the other. The whistle blows. She starts running towards her relay partner. Oh no, there seems to a mis-step, an unfortunate accident. There is a crash of dreams, as she lands heavily with the tinsel grotesquely twisted around her torso. The audience groans and the hurt warrior is borne off.
BLUE DISSOLVES INTO GREEN
INTERNAL. SWIMMING POOL – DIM LIGHTS
The over-chlorinated waters of the pool gleam blue in the gloom while valiant sunrays try to peer in from the grilled over small windows set near high ceilings. Girls shriek with joy of summers and one too many ice-creams.
EP is poised on top of the podium. The highest one with the number 1 emblazoned on it. She is glowing as she has been discovered as the youngest fastest swimmer, and is representing the school’s version of the Gryffindor in a number of events in the annual swimming meet. They are practicing. She dives off into the turquoise waters. Other girls rush in as they fear she has broken her neck. She surfaces, laughing.
CAMERA FAST FORWARDS THROUGH A SERIES OF PICTURES
A tired EP, holding her swimming bag, waiting for the meet to begin. She is also holding her head, and is an extreme pain. ‘Meet postponed due to rains’ echoes while pictures dissolve and swim in and out. EP in bed, delirious. The kindly doctor shakes his head. ‘She is too ill to swim’ echoes interspersed with loud sobs. A much older EP returns to the swimming pool. Her team places third in relay race, and they are rejoicing. It hardly matters that there were only four teams.
EXTERNAL. SAME SCHOOL PLAYFIELD – BRIGHT SUNLIGHT
CAMERA FAST FORWARDS THROUGH A SERIES OF PICTURES
EP tries out for the races again and discovers she is flat footed. She attempts the javelin and discus only to be accused of trying to injure the competition. She is seen dribbling the basketball while somewhere in the world Michael Jordan cringes for no apparent reason. On the badminton court, the other kids make fun of her as she can’t hold the racquet straight. EP exults as she is chosen to represent Gryffindor in high jump. She beats her personal best during the finals, gracefully vaulting over no matter how high they raised the bar. She places second. From last.
INTERNAL. COLLEGE HOSTEL ROOM. DAWN.
Cluttered room. A grown up EP snoozing under the covers with the look of someone who has just gone to bed. Frantic knocking at the door. EP struggles out of her dreams to find out that her services are required. The inter college meet is on and their girls’ relay race team is one girl short. Even flat footed, short people are welcome. She gamely brushes her teeth, dusts off her shoes.
ROOM DISSOLVES INTO GREEN
EXTERNAL. COLLEGE CAMPUS. SUNLIGHT FILTERING THROUGH TREES
EP is jogging at a gentle pace, admiring the patterns the sun makes on the fallen leaves. She has never been up this early before to appreciate nature’s beauty. The birds sing in the trees. She placidly ambles to last place, the rest of the teams having finished several minutes before. As she is given a milk beverage for her efforts, she smiles. It is her favorite milk beverage. And she can go back to sleep.
INTERNAL. EP’s HOUSE. NIGHT.
The whole family is asleep. A much older EP is feverishly bunched over her phone screen which glows eerily in the dark. Imaginary audience is screaming and cheering her on. The air is thick with tension. She grits her teeth and is determined not to quit, to soldier on. To win. Life is about not giving up. Sports is about giving your best, for your team, for your country, for yourself. It is about sweating through though every muscle is screaming in pain. For the glory of competing. For winning the battle against the self. Citius, Altius, Fortius.
EP punches the air, as her phone flashes with congratulations on clearing a particularly hard Candy Crush level.
As the curtains come down on the movie, I am blubbering. It was such a deeply moving and cathartic experience.