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Sultan's Aarfa was a tribute to the Sakshis of Indian wrestling

Ali Abbas Zafar
Ali Abbas ZafarAug 20, 2016 | 09:45

Sultan's Aarfa was a tribute to the Sakshis of Indian wrestling

When I started working on Sultan, I had a basic idea of the story in my mind. The film would focus on a male wrestler who is an underdog and show his resurrection. But when I started my field research on male wrestlers in North India (Delhi, Punjab and Haryana), I witnessed one of the most fascinating aspects of wrestling.

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Aarfa in Sultan.

In Haryana, I saw young girls in every akhara playing the local game with boys. For those of us who are not used to seeing women compete in the same arena as men, the sight can be a little baffling. But here they were, in their wrestling suits, fighting men in mud rings at local championships, in front of a crowd which was two to three thousand-strong, mostly male dominated.

I was told this was a common practice here. Since there were such few women in the sport, the women wrestlers had to practise with their male counterparts.

It became clear to me that Sultan’s lead character had to emulate the girls I saw back in Harayana. The character of Aarfa was born from these akharas. She had to be the truest representation of what these women stood for - fierce and, in every way, as much a sportsperson as a man.

Aarfa is a fitting tribute to not just the women wrestlers, but every female athlete in the country. In a society that still largely has a myopic view of women in sport; an Aarfa challenges the norm and fights against the odds. In her interview after her win, Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik mentioned that her akhara didn’t have coolers or air conditioning till 48 hours ago. With the monetary awards she receives, she hopes to make her akhara a space for aspiring wrestlers to practise without worrying about the lack of amenities.

But more than the lack of facilities, it is the fact that wrestling is not a primary front footed sport of the country. It is not cricket, football or hockey and hence suffers from government apathy. What is ironic is that it is in fact a very Indian sport. Mitti se juda hua khel hai. To get a medal in wrestling is an ode to the tradition of sports in India.

Aarfa was lucky to have a supportive father as a coach and Vinesh and Babita Phogat too come from a family of wrestlers. There is a progressive trend of families encouraging girls to take up wrestling as well, and now we will see that happening even more with Sakshi’s medal. But there those who also feel a medal can never match up to a medical or engineering degree.

Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik are challenging  this viewpoint but the need of the hour is for a systematic shift in how we view sport in our country. It is high time the daughters of the soil are given the same respect as the sons of the soil.

- As told to Ursila Ali

Last updated: August 20, 2016 | 09:45
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