Dangal: India’s wrestling blockbuster delights China

Promotional image for the film DangalImage copyright
DISNEY

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The promotional image for the film shows the father with his two daughters, when they are children and then later in life

The true story of two female wrestlers overturning gender stereotypes has become the highest-grossing Indian film ever in China. It’s got people asking when China will make a film like this?

It is a story of female empowerment

Dangal is not your typical song-and-dance heavy Bollywood romance.

Starring hugely popular Aamir Khan, it tells the story of Indian wrestler and coach Mahavir Singh Phogat who trained his daughters to become wrestlers – defying social norms.

The real-life family is from conservative Haryana state, known for the high prevalence of social issues such as gender inequality and child marriage. And the family faced great adversity to realise his wrestling dreams.

One of his daughters Geeta Phogat went on to win India’s first ever gold medal in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and became the first Indian female wrestler to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Image copyright
Aamir Khan Productions

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Dangal is the word for a wrestling competition

“I think the father really cared about his daughters’ future. He would have raised independent daughters no matter what,” said one social media user on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo.

“Just left the cinema. All I want to say is, after the movie’s finished, the whole room applauded. Quite an experience,” said another user.

Although some took away an anti-feminist message from the film.

“I think this is a rather male chauvinistic film. Basically, the dad forced his dream on his two daughters. He didn’t teach them to wrestle so that they could avoid being child brides. He taught them to wrestle so he could realise his dream. The girls never had a chance to choose,” said one Weibo user.

China loves Aamir Khan

Since its release on 5 May in China, the film has already made more than 487m yuan ($70.7m; £54.5m) at the box office, according to state news agency Xinhua and continues to do strong business.

It now looks poised to unseat Japan’s Your Name as the highest grossing non-Hollywood film ever in China, which commentators say points to China’s growing fascination with Bollywood.

In China, the film was released as Shuai Jiao Baba, which translates as Let’s Wrestle, Dad. Since then the hashtag #LetsWrestleDad has been trending on Weibo.

Image copyright
DISNEY

Image caption

Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan gained weight, learned wrestling and was made to look older and younger in the film

Aamir Khan’s previous films have also been hugely popular in China. His 2009 release, 3 Idiots, was a hit in the country and industry watchers called it the film that broke “China’s Great Bollywood Wall”.

Khan is sometimes credited with reviving China’s love for Bollywood, which began with Raj Kapoor’s films in the 1950s.

“It made me cry and laugh. I’m a big fan of Aamir Khan. He never lets me down,” said one netizen on Weibo.

It’s just so good, you won’t go to the toilet

Chinese critics say Dangal has helped break China’s “prejudice” against Bollywood films, including their excessive length and elaborate but “puzzling” dance scenes.

Prominent Chinese director Feng Xiaogang who watched the movie described his experience watching it with friends.

“I went to the movies along with some 20 friends last night. When the movie finished and they started showing the credits, seven to eight of them rushed to the toilet – turned out they had been holding off going to the bathroom. We went for tea afterwards and all of us said: good movie!”

Finally, a decent sports movie

And many social media users and critics are inevitably comparing Dangal to Chinese films, saying it was better than a lot of domestic cinema.

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dangal

Yin Hong, a professor from the Tsinghua University and a film critic, told the Beijing Evening News that Dangal puts Chinese movies “to shame”.

“Dangal was based on a true story, but its artistic level – from the script-writing to the actors’ and actresses’ performance, and from the pace to the musical score – is amazing.”

He said it had “taught Chinese cinema a lesson”.

“We have so many champions in China but we have failed to make a decent sports movie. This is a case worthy of reflection,” he said.

“It could totally have been a Chinese story. but how come we don’t have a movie like this?” asked one Weibo user.

Film critic Nan Jiang told the BBC she thinks it’s because the Chinese film market is dominated by commercial interests.

“Film makers are concerned with money. They barely care about feminism or female empowerment,” she said.

So what does India make of all this success for Dangal in China?

Lots of pride, a little disbelief and several cries of “madness”.

Reporting by BBC Monitoring and Beijing Bureau.

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