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Here's What Most People Criticising The Parenting In 'Dangal' Don't Understand

The normal rules of parenting don’t apply in sports.

26/12/2016 10:20 AM IST | Updated 29/12/2016 8:56 AM IST
Aamir Khan Productions, Walt Disney Pictures, UTV Motion Pictures/ YouTube

I loved Dangal. It was a fab Christmas gift and a perfect movie to watch with the family. Ever since trailers of Aamir's pehalwan opus started doing rounds, I had been itching to watch it even though I am not a fan of his work and thought PK was a colossal bore.

The earliest I could secure tickets was for a Sunday matinee show in Chennai ...yes in the land where Hindi is shrieked at and shunned! (Yawn ...T-H-A-T is such an old story I can't bother clarifying.)

To excel in sport, a different appetite, discipline and perseverance is required from both coach and player—attributes that we often discourage applying to everyday parenting.

Chennai's cinema halls that are playing Dangal are running houseful. You can hear the cheers and claps of the people much before you enter them. My father who had just returned after undertaking a 2000km journey and is infamous for snoring through most movies, sat rapt, touching his eyes many times during the course of the movie. I myself cried, cheered, clapped, bit my fingers and whistled even as my toddler shouted into my ear that she would take down her class bully like Geeta didi.

I came home in the evening to log in to the social media world that I so love catching up with (not). I was curious to read what people behind a virtual screen had to say about Aamir's latest offering.

The acting and dangal-ing were uniformly appreciated. The background score's manipulation of audience emotions regretted. Both criticisms are probably true and valid. But what struck me was how so many had a problem with the story itself. Some called it an overdose of one man's ego; others decried Phogat's parenting style for what kind of parent forces his children to chase his dreams; still others deplored his misogynist methods of training and many wondered if Geeta would ever come into her own given her deification of bapu's rules and methods, however haanikarak.

I am sure everyone is entitled to an opinion but I am not sure how many of these opinion-makers are from small towns, have trained at contact sport at a competitive level and have had their fathers as coaches.

As a child, I partly grew up in a city where donning shorts to sports practice earned catcalls and stares from men and girls on road. I also spent a good part of my school life training for one sport or the other at the national level under many different coaches. Today, I am an author of a parenting book series and if there is anything that I have learned from my experiences of life and all those hours spent on the field, it is this:

In sport, the dos and don'ts of good parenting do not work. Not necessarily. To excel in sport, a different appetite, discipline and perseverance is required from both coach and player—attributes that we often discourage applying to everyday parenting. Are we so harsh about Mahavir Singh Phogat's methods because here the coach and parent are one and the same?

We feel angry that he makes his children chase his dream. But what if he was not their father? What if he was just their coach?

To me, the movie is about a man who has turned his back on his passion until he sees a spark in his daughters. He introduces them to wrestling much like the great Hingis's mother who thrust a tennis racket on her daughter at a tender age. In the process, he dangals his own doubts and wife's, not to mention the entire village's. This revival of his lifelong passion doesn't appear as an ego fest to me. Nor does his dream of winning a gold for the country seem so repulsive. We feel angry that he makes his children chase his dream. But what if he was not their father? What if he was just their coach? Would his dream of winning a gold then be valid, in fact honourable as against the coach in the movie who simply wants a medal, even if only a bronze?

A lot was also written about his misogynistic methods. Every coach has a style. Some are draconian, others more chilled. More importantly, some players do well under any condition. Others need rules, regimen and rigour. It's pretty similar to how some kids score 95 % despite watching TV or not going to tuition. Others have to disconnect cable TV or Netflix when they are sitting their boards.

And why does it irk us when Geeta turns to her bapu (literally and otherwise) when she begins to lose? When grand slam winners like Federer and Djokovic lock eyes with their coach or family member sitting in the box, we seem to do alright. In fact, we are thrilled to get a whiff of their inner circle and are eager to tweet about Mirka's twins, hair tints and what not. But in Geeta's case we question her dependency even though her initiation to the sport and early training was under her father.

When the underweight Haryanvi girl begins to fail, she falls back on her basics—on the moves and strategies handcrafted by her father to suit her natural game. Every player knows that in the end it is he/she that has to run the race not the coach. Then what is the need for training? I believe that something exchanged during those long hours of practice comes to you in a flash when you are near the finish line. That's when a good or bad coach makes a difference. That's where Mahavir Singh Phogat made a difference to India's fortunes in women's wrestling. I salute both the man and coach.

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