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Sultan, Brothers and more: How Bollywood has fallen in love with Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts has seen an exponential rise in its popularity in the last half a decade in India

Sultan MMA Salman Khan
Salman Khan will be seen playing the role of an MMA fighter in Sultan. Photo: Indiatimes

Gone are the days when sports in Bollywood meant just cricket and football. While Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak de India brought some limelight to the one time forgotten pride of the country, hockey, Bollywood has now opened up to incorporating niche sports as an important motif in the script. The major beneficiary of this new attitude of the 21st century Bollywood has been Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Whether Mithun Da’s mind and physics bending martial art skills in his movies of late 80’s and 90’s qualify as a precursor to this sudden fascination of Bollywood with Mixed Martial Arts remain disputed. However, what is certain is that this fascination is here to stay for a while as big stars like Salman Khan and Aamir Khan will also be seen taking up MMA in two of the biggest releases of 2016.

Super Fight League (SFL) deserves much of the credit for the popularization of the sport in India and has certainly played a crucial role in expanding the average Indian’s knowledge of sports beyond the routine names. Mixed Martial Arts has come up in a big way over the last 5 years and Bollywood’s love for it looks to exploit the new audience for MMA that has been created by the popularity of Super Fight League.

Also read: Super Fight League - taking Indian sport in a unique direction

The 2000’s decade, specially the later half, proved that action sells in India, and that too in a big way. Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Salman Khan are a few names who owe action movies to the resurrection of their careers and their emergence as bankable names in the industry. Bollywood went one step ahead and embraced Mixed Martial Arts in the next decade to give some meaning to its stars’ mindless stunts.

A slew of movies have released in the last 12 months in which the protagonist was a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Akshay Kumar and Siddharth Malhotra starrer Brothers, which was an official remake of Warrior, one of the finest Hollywood movies made on MMA in the last decade. Recently released Do Lafzon Ki Kahaani starring Randeep Hooda also had the actor portraying the role of an MMA fighter.

Not just this, a number of Bollywood stars were trained in Mixed Martial Arts to prepare for their roles. Priyanka Chopra, who played Olympic medalist Mary Kom in an eponymous biopic, took extensive MMA training while shooting for the movie. So did Tiger Shroff for his role in Baaghi, where the actor was seen pulling off some unbelievable action sequences.

Earlier, Deepika Padukone had also trained herself in MMA for her role in Chandni Chowk to China. Not just that, more and more stars are taking to Mixed Martial Arts to stay fit. Athiya Shetty, who debuted opposite Suraj Pancholi last year in Hero, is one of that breed.

It hasn’t been a one way traffic though, as Ritika Singh, who appeared as a boxer in the critically acclaimed Saala Khadoos, is one MMA fighter who turned towards Bollywood with the 2015 movie which also starred R Madhavan. Ritika Singh is the product of India’s only structured MMA outfit, the Super Fight League (SFL) and was selected by co-star R Madhavan over 100 athletes.

With the superstars already dabbling in roles that require them to learn MMA and show their skills on the silver screen, there is only one direction that the sport’s future is looking in the country – northwards. This, in turn, can prove to be a shot in the arm of the Super Fight League as well which has aggressively pushed to expand its reach in the last 12 months.

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