Dangal starts its story in Balali, a village in Haryana, the Indian state famous for churning out top-notch wrestling talent and infamous for a parochial patriarchy that’s responsible for things like honor killings and one of the worst sex ratios in the country.
Mahavir Singh Phogat, a former national champion, who forsook wrestling due to poverty, aches for the day that he will be blessed with a son to help him realize his dream of winning India a gold medal on the international wrestling circuit. In this pursuit, and egged on by the scores of self-proclaimed eugenics experts in Balali, Mahavir and his wife conceive no less than four children — all of whom, are alas, girls.
While Mahavir is initially crestfallen, a chance encounter in which his eldest two daughters, Geeta and Babita, beat up a local troublemaker, opens his eyes up to the possibility that his daughters might be just as capable of realizing his dreams. Armed with this thought, Mahavir razes societal norms and shackles, and steadfastly begins an unrelenting training regimen that would transform his daughters into world-beaters.
Problematically, male wrestlers aren’t the only opposition that Geeta and Babita must conquer. In an overtly orthodox society that considers girls a liability, fit only for household chores, the girls have to also overcome the leers of lecherous males and the jeers of society in general. Along the way, the girls are forced to bid adieu to typical childhood experiences like watching TV, enjoying piquant savories, and dancing at weddings, as their father strives to remove all distractions from their march towards excellence.
While initially frustrated, the girls realize the bravery of their father’s actions and buy into his vision in a poignant scene, in which their fourteen-year-old soon-to-be-married friend tells them that she’d gladly trade places to have a father who doesn’t treat her as property to be sold off as soon as possible but instead believes in her potential as a human being.
The rest of Dangal focuses on the girls’ prodigious success which sees them winning golds for India at the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games, and sounding a long overdue wake-up call for India, both rural and urban, that equipped with the right support-system, our girls are every bit as capable as our boys.