In a scene from the documentary Goonga Pehelwan,based on the speech and hearing impaired wrestler Virendra Singh,the directors ask Singh what its like to be deaf. He flashes a wide smile,and in almost cinematic sign language tells us how women like him better because he is quiet and they empathise with him. He beams at his witty response,and then signals,God has made me like this,Im very content with who I am. Singh holds Indias first Gold medal for wrestling in the Deaflympics,held in 2005 in Melbourne and he is popularly known in wrestling circles as Goonga Pehelwan. The film,which was screened in Delhi last week,at the India Habitat Centre,is made by Ahmedabad-based students Prateek Gupta,Mit Jani and Vivek Chaudhry. It follows Singh as he prepares for his third Deaflympics.
A collage of celebrated sportspeople and athletes,such as Sachin Tendulkar,Kapil Dev and Leander Peas,greet us at the beginning of the film. Theres silence as were shown Virendra Singhs winning point at Melbourne,but the film is quick to set a jovial tone with colourful opening credits. Goonga Pehelwan was never going to be a film about sympathy. We are given a proper introduction to Singh through his life before the training and interviews with his uncle and father (where we learn he wasnt born deaf and he kept running back to his village in Haryana as a child). I barely go out anywhere. While my roommates talk,crack jokes and play cards I sit and watch them grudgingly. But when the wrestling begins,I put all this behind me, Singh says to the camera in sign language. He then flashes a smile and narrates several humorous anecdotes about his training in Chhatrasal Stadium in Model Town.
Goonga Pehelwan began as a biopic on an unknown athlete,but has now become the carrier for a much larger issue. In September 2012,the three students started researching on Singh and began shooting in January this year. After 110 days of shadowing him around his tournaments in Rajasthan,UP and Bihar,they approached his family for a more personal insight on Singh. The film is not just a biopic,its a campaign against systematic exclusion in various sporting fields. With continued screenings of our film,we hope to start a dialogue, says 23-year-old Gupta,who is a chartered accounting student. Through the film,the trio have begun a campaign titled Mission Rio16,with the help of their producers,an Ahmedabad-based media organisation called Drishti that deals with social rights. Mission Rio16 aims to help Singh in his quest to reach the Rio Olympics 2016 by fighting the bureaucracy through a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Delhi High Court.
While filming,we realised through the personal admission of Sushil Kumar and Singhs coach as well,that he is good enough to participate in the Rio Olympics. The reason for his exclusion is only that he cannot hear the beginning whistle to commence the wrestling. There are other cues that are recognised by sports federations abroad,such as a tap on the shoulder,and we want to introduce that in India in time for Singhs participation, says Gupta.
Noted sports lawyer Rahul Mehra has agreed to fight the case pro-bono,and was vocal about his support. Write about him,watch him,make him part of folklore. People should know what its like to be Virendra Singh, he said,at the film screening. All this while,Singh sat in a corner,suited and booted,flashing his smile. When we asked him how he felt about a film that was being made on him,he responded,Im ecstatic,doesnt