Mahavir Singh Phogat: The Super Daddy Who Inspired Dangal      

Dhaval Patel and Aditya Soumava

Dec 25, 2016, 08:09 PM | Updated 08:09 PM IST

Aamir Khan with Mahavir
Singh Phogat and his daughters. 
Aamir Khan with Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters. 
  • The story seems to be an inspiring tale for millions of girls, who have been told from a very young age that they can’t do certain things for they are girls.
  • Let us begin with a quote from this piece by Rudraneil Sengupta which forces one to ponder on the state of being, and the life of an athlete.

    “The Olympians
    burden is an extraordinary one. Their chance to truly shine, to become more than just an athlete, comes only once every four years, and when it does, that opportunity can last a few minutes or a few seconds. A lifetime has to be spent to get to those hours. So the prison is self-made, self-administered; a prison to bide your time and be ready when it comes.”

    Even before its release, Dangal had managed to make a deep connection with the audiences. It has the essence which a Hindi movie rarely achieves – a sense of self-reflection and achievement which transcends into reality.

    Aamir Khan reprises the role of wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat in the film. Who is Mahavir Singh Phogat? It may be equivalent to blasphemy to ask this if you are a wrestling fan. He is the epitome of a real life hero and a super daddy, who believed that raising daughters like princesses is not the only way forward and ideal. To equip them with the harsh realities of life one has to make them equally tough, relentless, rough and confident. And that has always been the way for the Phogat daughters. Phogat, a state champion wrestler, became a coach to his daughters (Babita Kumari and Geeta Phogat), who are now professional wrestlers and world champions.

    But to answer the blasphemous question in detail for the unwary, Phogat belongs to Balali, a small village in Haryana, which did not give him his expected rights for raising his daughters. His wife, Daya Kaur, equally supported him in achieving his dreams and goals. Dangal has portrayed these characters skin deep. Yet, beyond the film, the story of the Phogat family is compelling for several reasons.

    Phogat’s love for his daughters did not reflect in his words, but in his actions. He quit his job at the Haryana State Electricity Board to raise and coach his girls. Today, more than a wrestler, Phogat is famous for his coaching skills and the unrelenting support that reflect in his daughters' success. In training his daughters to become wrestlers, Phogat brought about a women's wrestling revolution in what has been a traditionally male-dominated sport. He also did that it in a state that is known for its gender inequality, a low sex ratio of 879 and a female literacy rate of 65.94 per cent, according to the 2011 census.

    Phogat has trained six female international-level wrestlers – Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Sangeeta, Vinesh and Priyanka – who have won accolades and medals at the international stage. Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Sangeeta are his daughters, and Vinesh and Priyanka are those of his deceased brother. They were also the first women in their family and village of Balali to take up wrestling. Because there were no other girls in the village that the sisters could practise with, Phogat asked Geeta and Babita to start training with the boys. The decision led to considerable criticism and ridicule from conservative village elders, but Phogat held his ground. Later, he took Geeta and Babita to the Sports Authority of India centre in Sonipat for further training.

    Phogat proved to be a tough and demanding taskmaster, making his daughters practise as much as the boys and even punishing them at times. "If we lost to them in a race or fell weak before them, father would hit us," Geeta said in the Satyamev Jayate episode. "He would scold us too. We often think that if we had a coach like our father we would have never gone back. We would have come home."

    Phogat was awarded the Dronacharya Award by the Wrestling Federation of India for his contribution to women’s wrestling. He is now recognised globally for his exceptional wrestling and coaching skills. After breaking all the taboos of his village, Phogat has turned out to be a true parental inspiration who wants to see their children succeed and take to glory at international stages.

    Now a bit of insight as to how it all happened when it came to Dangal. For the episode on ‘woman empowerment’ of Satyamev Jayate, the research team came across the story of Phogat sisters, Geeta and Babita. In the orthodox and patriarchal society of Haryana, which is infamous for Khap Panchayats and girl child homicide, the story of Phogat sisters was a huge contrast.

    On further research, they found that Mahavir Singh Phogat, the father, was the driving force behind the girls’ venturing into wrestling, which is predominantly a male sport.

    The story was compelling, inspiring and it was the highlight of that episode of Satyamev Jayate.

    Aamir Khan was very much impressed with the story of two girls from a small village of Haryana who went to the Olympics to participate in a sport in which no one expected them to stand a chance. It was the perfect blend of an underdog story. The story seemed to be an inspiring tale for millions of girls who have been told from an early age that they can’t do certain things as they are girls. Rest is history.

    It’s said, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. And Dangal seems to have hit the bull’s eye, evident enough from Karan Johar’s tweet “Just saw DANGAL… haven’t seen a better film in a decade… speechless!!!!” To sign it off, Dangal has the necessities of a blockbuster written all over it, and there will be no surprises if the film emerges as highest grosser of this year beating Salman Khan's Sultan.

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