When 60-year-old Vishnu Joshilkar was approached by a filmmaker, the first thing he told him was, “I’m a wrestler and not an actor; I can’t act.” The filmmaker responded, “You don’t have to act, just be what you are – a wrestler,” and Joshilkar agreed.
For two months now, Joshilkar, a former wrestling champion and Maharashtra Kesari title-holder, an Indian style wrestling championship started in the state in 1961, has been shooting for the Marathi film Taleem, scheduled to release next month.
Directed by Nitin Rokade, Taleem is set in the period 1960-1980, which was the golden era of Indian style wrestling played on mud.
“I did wrestling for 22 years and after that, I started training upcoming wrestlers in my own taleem (akhada) in Kolhapur. I am not so much into watching films as well. My life was and will always be around wrestling. So when this offer of film came to me, I was apprehensive. But the director boosted my confidence and showed faith in me. Besides, because the film revolves around wrestling, I felt I could pull it off. Slowly, I discovered I was enjoying it too. During the peak of my career, I had given a lot of interviews and hence I wasn’t hesitant in front of the camera,” said Joshilkar, who won the Maharashtra Kesari title in 1985.
Joshilkar trained under ace wrestlers Ganpatrao Andalkar, a Hind Kesari title winner, and Rustam-e-Hind Dadu Chougule. Wrestling, according to Joshilkar, is a sport that requires a strict regime, strict discipline and good diet. “I would wake up at 4 am. I used to have 250 grams of almonds in a day, ditto with pure ghee. Besides, I would take enough pista, cashew nuts and at least two to three litres of milk every day. My morning meal would be vegetarian and evening non-vegetarian,” he recollects.
The director of the film, who hails from Panchgani hill station near Pune, spent four years on research of the film during which he visited hundreds of akhadas (also called taleem in Maharashtra) across the state and met old wrestlers, who once brought laurels in the field of wrestling. The film was shot mainly in Bhor taluka in Pune district other than Naneghat and Kundal village.
“Taleem mainly showcases the golden years of wrestling. The story revolves around one wrestling guru named Kishen Ustad, played by Joshilkar. I had approached various Marathi actors for the role and in fact had even shot a few scenes with one actor. However, I wasn’t satisfied and decided to approach a real-time wrestler. Joshilkar has done a fantastic job,” says Rokade, who has done editing for numerous Bollywood films such as Partner, Desi Boyz, Mujhse Shadi Karogi, Bhavandar, Main Tera Hero, Ishq and so on.