The Bold Voice of J&K

Promoting sports, reel-life way

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Shreya Kedia 

There is a saying in Hindi, ‘Padhoge likhoge toh banoge nawab, kheloge kudoge toh banoge kharab’. How significantly has this age-old wisdom undergone a sea change, or maybe has even lost relevance today, can best be seen in the way aspirational young Indians, especially from rural areas, have defied old beliefs and are opting for a career which had until now been a rare choice. They are making national and international headlines in the field of arts, music, photography, sports. Not only have they proved their potential, but they have also brought laurels and respect for their native places by becoming celebrities and role models.
Among the disciplines, sports has suddenly become an important stepping stone to stature in society – almost like being a doctor, engineer, MBA graduate, software engineer, or an IAS officer used to be once upon a time. The change has happened rather suddenly. This is, in fact, indicative of a revolution taking place in large parts of India, especially in the so-called backward class, where there are individuals who have realised that the one good way to break the shackles of their present-day grind is to do well in sports.
What is adding to the new culture is the celluloid celebration of the achievements of athletes, which fills a much-needed vacuum. Significantly, cinema has been acting as a binding tool to bring about social, attitudinal and behavioural change; community development; and to encourage people to take up sports as a career option. Moving images have an intense, overarching impact – so much that not only parents but also teachers are encouraging children to take up sports as a mainstream activity.
The people who are represented in many of the new films are ones who have used sports to make a mark, to reach a certain level – either for self-satisfaction or to send across a message to the people who do not appreciate them. These achievers are from the middle or less-privileged backgrounds. For them, sports is the only medium to carve a niche for themselves and wipe off the shame of being marginalised. Sports films, are, in fact, rags-to-riches stories and stories of struggle about these people who come from ‘not easy’ conditions to triumph despite the handicaps.
In fact, the role of films in present times has undergone a sea change. From being just a mode of entertainment and art, they have become a conduit for social change. They have the ability to tick people’s brain in a manner that they bring them closer to reality. At one level, these films are inspiring generations in the country to take sports as a career option because they have now begun to realise that sports can be an alternative and lucrative livelihood. On the other hand, such films project a social message to address the many problems that plague the patriarchal Indian society. The latest among these films areDangal and Sultan.
Though both of them have completely different genres, storylines and settings, the similarities cannot be missed. Both show the image of women as being assertive and athletic, as opposed to being a showpiece. Both films have projected women as modern and self-confident, who embody the idea of empowerment. Wrestling is the common sport and the protagonists – in the case of Dangal, the Phogatsisters, and in the case of Sultan, Aarfa (played by Anushka Sharma) – are trained by their fathers. It’s all about a parent’s dream, which is recast by the daughters. Both films point towards the need to groom Indian athletes at the international level in sports other than cricket, and try to present opportunities to people at large rather than let athleticism be a selective ambition reserved for a particular gender.
On the other hand, there have also been biopics, like MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom and Paan Singh Tomar. These films are based on sport personalities about whom, or about whose success stories, we have heard since our childhood. The common theme in such films is that glamour and sacrifices of the athlete that go into the making of a star, work side by side. There is an undercurrent theme of struggle which strikes a fine balance between not being neglectful and denying to surrender to convention; between not being supercilious but also not feeble or spineless.
The central character is shown craving for a better life, the desire to live on his or her own terms, and to break away from the past. This helps change perceptions. Films are also important to keep memories alive. For, today, we may remember the Phogat sisters or Pan Singh Tomar or even Milkha Singh, because we have lived in their time. But the next generation may not relate to their exploits and their struggles. Films are records and will inspire generations to come.
Simultaneously, though these films are an inspiration for an individual, his or her family, relatives and friends, it must also be the case for our sports authorities who must acknowledge the fact that sports facilities are not the best in a country which boasts of hosting national and international sports events. There is a dire need to wrap up facilities for our budding athletes who come from a ‘nothing’ background with high dreams. There is so much corruption, red tapism and politics that sportspersons at times reach a point where they have to be dishonest to move forward. Most give up. Films, which highlight these issues, must propel our sports administrators to address the deficiencies in training and infrastructure.
In the midst of all this, we must also not forget those reports where athletes do not get proper stay, or are made to do menial jobs or have to face sexual exploitation. The most vulnerable are the women lot who face gender discrimination and sexual misconduct. There are so many stories which confirm how women athletes are treated as second-hand players in a boys’ club, who must first face harassment and exploitation before gaining recognition or advancement in the field of play.

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