Made by three Ahmedabad filmmakers, a documentary on the story of two-time gold medal winner at Deaflympics, Virender Singh popularly known as ‘Goonga Pehelwan’ (mute wrestler) bagged an award for the ‘Best Debut Film of a Director’ in non feature film category for the year 2014 at the 62nd National Film Awards which were declared on Tuesday.
The documentary ‘Goonga Pehelwan’ follows India’s most successful deaf-mute Delhi-based athlete Virender Singh on his quest to reach the Rio Olympics 2016 and become only the second deaf wrestler in the history of the Olympics to do so.
Singh has won the first and only gold medal at the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne, in 74-84kg freestyle wrestling, a silver medal at the second World Deaf Wrestling Championships in 2008 in Yerevan, Armenia, and a bronze at the 2009 Deaflympics in Taipei, Taiwan and a bronze at the 2012 World Deaf Wrestling Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.
While ‘Goonga Pehelwan’ was the first feature length film (documentary) made by its directors Mit Jani, Prateek Gupta and Vivek Chaudhary who met while pursuing their UG in city-based HL Institute of Commerce (HLIC) in Ahmedabad. United in their passion for filmmaking, the trio completed the film in 2013 on a shoestring budget of three and a half lakhs, produced by Drishti Media.
“We have achieved both the objectives that we set out with while making the film including getting equal cash rewards for ‘differently-abled’ sporting athletes and equal opportunities for them. On 29th of January, 2015, for the first time there was an amendment in the National Sports Policy and a clause was changed ensuring cash awards and preventing exclusion of differently abled sportpersons. This means that winners at the Deaflympics, the Paralympics and all other sporting events for the differently-abled will also receive cash rewards. This move validates a massive chunk of the efforts we poured into making Goonga Pehelwan. More recently Virender became the first wrestler to compete with able bodied wrestlers and we were lucky to have found a referee who gave him visual, tactile cues during the bout as well,” said Prateek Gupta, who said that the news had been received with much excitement from Virender on whose life it is based.
The filmmaker all of whom are 25 years of age and are now pursuing filmmaking full-time and are looking forward to receiving the award (Rajat Kamal or Silver Lotus) and cash prize of Rs 75,000 each for producers and director on 3rd May at Vigyan Bhavan.
The story of the wrestler’s decade long fight with trying financial circumstances, while eking out a living from traditional mud wrestling competitions against able-bodied athletes and facing bureaucratic apathy resounded with the jury which has given the citation for the award that reads, “It(the film) pointedly questions the politics that impede this capable athlete’s route to Rio’s Olympics.”
The film which has travelled to 14 national and international film festivals has garnered a lot of interest including a ‘Special Jury Mention’ at the ‘7th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala’ held in July 2014. “Our film is currently doing the rounds of the (film) festival circuit, but we would be looking to get a release in theatres soon,” added Gupta.