Wednesday, December 28, 2016


I was waiting outside the bathrooms for my sister when I overheard a family talking about DANGAL, the movie we had just seen. "The subtle message of the movie," said a girl, "is if you listen to your father, you'll win."

Her brother snorted. "It wasn't subtle."

As I thought about these two statements, I looked at the bathroom entrance and realized that 1) most people don't like subtle and 2) they were both right.

I took a picture of the bathroom entrance so you can see what I am talking about. Go ahead and look at it. There are two entrances. Which one is the men's bathroom? How can you tell? Probably the signs everywhere help, huh?  They have cool icons and shapes and there's extra signs hanging above the door, too!

Now imagine all the signs are gone and tell me which of these is the men's bathroom. Do you see it? It's obvious, really. Women clearly need to be surrounded with pale peachy rosy colors when eliminating body wastes while men should only defecate in an environment the grey-blue-green of a fresh bruise. Even the paint on the walls above the tilework is different and neither of these two spaces looks anything like the rest of the theater.

Subtle it ain't.

Lots of people have ideas about bathrooms and the logic and morality of them. I don't want to talk about any of those ideas right now. Instead, I want to use the bathrooms as a way to see the system.

It's difficult, sometimes, to understand the systems we live in. It's like thinking about air. We really never think about air unless it smells different or the temtperature drops or if we don't have enough. But when a business needs to pays extra money for two different sets of tiles to be installed in the bathrooms so their customer's gender identities are comfortable, that's the system. Customers don't want subtle. They want bathrooms which are blatantly pink and blue.

DANGAL is a movie about women's wrestling and it is entirely about men, specifically one man, Mahavir Singh Phogat (played by Aamir Khan.) This movie completely fails the Bechtel test (which simply is - do two women in the movie ever have a conversation about anything OTHER than a man?) to the point where a male cousin is the narrator. DANGAL is a sports movie so this isn't unusual. A (male) friend of mine calls sports movies "chick flicks for dudes" because they provide the same kind of wish-fulfillment. Dudes don't dream of meeting a sexy partner who responds to their needs (because guys just expect that.) Men dream of winning the big game and the respect of other men. DANGAL provides the dream and the glorious fulfillment of the dream.

Aamir Khan plays Papa, the man with a dream. For those of you who don't know Aamir Khan, he's like India's Tom Hanks/Christian Bale and has won an outrageous number of awards for acting. His nickname is "Mr. Perfection" because of the care and meticulousness he brings to every role. For this film Mr. Kahn was just as careful. He gained and lost weight, getting as high as 35% body fat and down as low as 9% body fat, so he could portray a man going from peak physical condition in his youth to heavy and slow in his late years.  Aamir Khan movies have weight (sorry for the pun) and he is the sun every other character revolves around.

So, it's as subtle as blue bathroom tiles. Papa has a dream, Papa teaches his daughters to wrestle, Papa lets no other man control his daughters, India wins the gold. (No, I am not apologizing for the spoiler. It's a sports movie. They HAVE to win.) At the end Papa's dream is fulfilled, the movie formula is complete and everyone goes home happy. So, the brother I overheard was right. It isn't subtle.

But (and you knew it was coming) there's more to this movie than that. It showed how awful it is when grown men mock young girls on the street, when they hope their arms and legs break, when grown men rush to see a 10 year old girl wrestle because they hope her shirt gets ripped off. And when the girls are older we see men who try to dominate them, try to steal their glory, men who don't believe in them, who mock them for failing,  men who will gladly sacrifice a woman's success if it will help him hurt another man, and men who don't pay attention enough to know these young women, much less what they are good at.

The contrast, of course, is Papa. This is a man who helps with homework, knows having short hair won't kill a girl, teaches his daughters to fight, and goes against his wife's vegetarian beliefs because little wrestlers need more protein. We see a man who quit his job because his boss, who would have given him time off for a wedding, wouldn't give him the time to help his daughters meet a goal. We see a man tell his girls that they are just as good as boys, that they should fight for what they want, that they can do great things, that when they win, they inspire other girls, and that they can do all of it even if he's not there.

In short we see a father who cares about his children and knows his daughters are better off having a gold medal than a pink bathroom. So, the girl I overheard is right. If you listen to your father, one who cares about you and knows you can achieve great things, you'll win. And, if your own father doesn't say these things, the really really ridiculously good-looking Aamir Khan makes a great substitute.

I think everyone should see DANGAL. It is currently playing at two theatres in Las Vegas (and we aren't a movie town) so it's got to be available almost anywhere. It's a big glossy inspiring feel-good sports movie that everyone will enjoy. It's also a film that uses the system (feel-good sports movie = blue bathroom tiles) to show other men how dumb the system is (girls can do more than cook) and how to improve it (be a good dad like Aamir Khan.)