By Arnav Bhardwaj
Dangal took the country by storm when its revenue crossed a whopping INR 387.38 in India. However, this revenue did not come across as a big surprise so much as did its unprecedented success in China. A 10-day box office run in China was wrapped up with a massive $59.74 million (INR 382.69 crore). In the following days, this figure escalated rapidly to a massive INR 1600 crore as the movie played out on 9000 screens across the country.
Though Indian movies have been successful in China before, a foray of this magnitude was exceptional. The fact that no Indian movie before PK (December 2014) could cross even the INR 100 crore mark in China displays the enormity of the movie’s success. China does not host a sizeable Indian diaspora, which is generally responsible for the success of Indian movies abroad in countries, which makes the feat even more astonishing.
Social evils provide a common ground
The general conception is that the universal theme of feminism struck the right chord with the Chinese audience, which grapples with the same issues of patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. The plot deals with a bunch of wrestler girls fighting their way through sexist stereotypes. This represents a marked departure from a regressive mindset, which expects people to conform to binary gender roles.
It is interesting to note that China represents one of the most skewed sex ratios in the world, with 115 males for every 100 females. The roots of this skewed sex ratio can be traced back to the One-Child Policy being enforced in China on a nationwide scale for several decades. In a society, where only males are considered to be the forebearers of family legacy, the idea of a single offspring drove the citizens hysteric, making them resort to sex-selective abortions to raise male offsprings. Therefore, young girls, who could only survive as secondary offsprings until then, had to perish in wake of this prevalent misogyny. This patriarchy is also well-rooted in ancient Chinese culture and traditions. The subordination of women to men has been traditionally laid down as an important principle in Confucianism, a widely influential theory in ancient China.
The need for powerful female role models
It won’t take rocket science to gauge the wide gender gap in the country. This manifests itself in a huge lack of opportunities for females as they struggle to find the right role models. In the absence of such strong and independent role models, these girls grow up with confidence levels significantly lesser than their male counterparts. As they are brought up with misleading notions of feminity, the motivation to chalk out a path for themselves drops significantly during their growing years.
In such a scenario, a movie like Dangal comes across as a refreshing change by showcasing strong-willed female protagonists. They would rather take destiny into their own hands to challenge male hegemony than to submit and sacrifice their dreams. The sport of wrestling is especially interesting in this regard. Being a core physical sport, one which has been reserved for men for centuries, the very association of a female with this sport had been deemed unthinkable. However, when these protagonists actively challenge male chauvinism in a sport like this, they fill up the void of strong female role models. This is what the Chinese audience had been struggling to witness on popular TV shows and movies.
Too good to be true?
However, not everyone agrees with the ideals shown. In fact, the movie has become a topic of intense debate and discussions on online forums, with Chinese feminists questioning the misogyny shown in the movie. The idea of a father forcing his dreams and ambitions on his daughters without their consent has not gone down well with a section of Chinese feminists, who vociferously protested against it on social platforms. Citing incidents where the father denies his daughter’s basic freedom such as keeping their hair long or relishing delicacies to fulfil his ambition, these feminists outrightly rejected the movie as blatantly patriarchal and regressive.
Whether Dangal represents the true ideals of feminism or not is another debate. The underlying fact behind Dangal’s unprecedented success in the Chinese market was that it could effectively ride on the feminism wave. As its protagonists inspired young girls to take their destiny into their own hands, the message resonated well with the audience which was starved of progressive cinema. Interestingly, the movie sets the precedent for a new genre of cinema, where female protagonists can look up to more significant roles. At the same time, it is responsible for relegating the conventional male saviour, who becomes more obsolete by the day. The ball now lies in the court of the elite Bollywood fraternity, who can ride on this wave of progressive cinema to attain wider and more universal appeal or greatly restrict their market by catering to the needs of a few bigots with their regressive cinema.
Featured Image Credits: Atimes
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