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Goonga Pahalvan: A film about fierce dedication of a differently-abled champion and sports babudom

By Our Representative
In a country that hardly produces world champions and Olympic medalists, Ahmedabad-based NGO group Drishti, which uses media and the arts to empower communities valuing their self-expression and human rights, has come up with a new documentary, “Googna Pahalvan”, highlighting the story of a man who, for the better part of his life, has been just that - a World Champion and a Deaflympics (Olympics for the Deaf) Gold Medalist. Drishti team has described the film (click HERE to see trailer) as “a story of grit, fierce dedication and hope”, adding it is “an attempt to make possible the dream of India’s most successful deaf athlete, his dream of making it to the Rio Olympics 2016.”
To be released at Natrani, Ahmedabad, on October 24, the film is a captivating account of the life Virender Singh, “snubbed by the bureaucracy but who is in no mood to let up as he continues to wrestle on”, to quote from a Drishti note. It is about “a man who has faced apathy and penury, scraping a living out of fighting traditional mud wrestling competitions against other able-bodied athletes and who never thought of giving up the sport, even in very difficult circumstances… He shows no signs of letting up but his eyes betray what he feels deep inside.”
Calling it a story of “a wrestler, a warrior and most importantly, a winner”, Drishti says, “The film delves into and tracks his life from the by-lanes of a small village in Haryana to becoming India's most successful deaf athlete ever and aims at fulfilling the long-cherished dream of every athlete; to go to the biggest sporting event in the world, the Olympics. On the way, it looks at all that he as endured and achieved through a glittering decade and a half long career.”
Based on Right to Information (RTI) appeals, the filmmakers “seek to find answers to tough questions about unequal treatment to differently-abled athletes and unequal opportunities at sporting events”, the note says, adding, “The PIL aims to help accrue the rewards and monetary assistance that an athlete of Virender’s stature must receive. This film and the simultaneous activism on the ground is an effort to bring about policy level change in the way Indian athletes, especially differently abled athletes, are treated.”
The film, believes Drishti, is “important” because it asks “tough questions” to the sporting bureaucracy in India, brings to light all that Virender has achieved and hopes that even if the bureaucracy doesn't wake up to his genius at least people of the country know about this smiling champion. “The struggle that Virender faces outside the wrestling arena is tough because inside the ring he is in total control and there aren’t too many fights that he loses. It’s the battles outside the ring that this film endeavors to make him win. India - Virender wants to hear from you”, it insists.
Wrestler Virender Singh is known to have emerged as India’s most successful deaf athlete. Yet, in wrestling circles, Virender’s real name is lost; he is simply called Goonga Pehelwan, or the mute wrestler. “It might seem like a politically incorrect name but the name represents a badge of pride —there are other deaf wrestlers in India, but only one Goonga Pehelwan. And to give you an idea of how successful he is, have a look at what he has achieved”, says Drishti.
Virender won India’s 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. That’s four medals at the only four international competitions Virender has been to. That is the measure of the success of this man.
“But that is not all. If the sports bureaucracy would have been more sympathetic to the cause of differently-abled sportsmen, Virender in particular, you might just have seen Virender at the Summer Olympics of 2008 or 2012”, Drishti says, adding, “For a man who has always fought able-bodied men, he is the only deaf wrestler in the Chhattarsaal stadium – Chhattarsaal stadium being the breeding ground for most Olympic hopefuls in wrestling…”
Highlighting all this, the film, says Drishti, is an attempt to campaign to help fulfill Virender’s dream to take part at the Olympics to take place at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Calling it “Mission Rio16”, it adds, the film “aims to help Virender in his quest to reach the Rio Olympics 2016 by fighting the bureaucracy through a Public Interest Litigation in the Delhi High Court and trying to bring about a policy change that allows differently-abled athletes to go to the normal Olympics with other deserving athletes.”

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