The real 'Dangal': The story of the real struggle of the Phogat sisters under 'coach' Mahavir Singh Phogat

Aamir Kahn starrer ‘Dangal’ is set to release tomorrow

Come Friday, and the most awaited film of the year will hit the screens. Dangal, starring Aamir Khan, promises to be the motion picture of the year. Even the biggest Aamir-haters cannot deny that the trailer looks promising.

Of course, by now everyone is well aware that the film is based on the life of a certain Mahavir Singh Phogat. This man was an amateur wrestler who dreamed of bringing glory to the country. Later on, he trained his daughters to become wrestlers in a society where a girl child is deemed more as a liability. His daughters won several accolades for the country and Mahavir went on to win the prestigious Dronacharya Award from the government of India.

However, he was not exactly the tyrant that has been presented in one of the songs of the film, Haanikarak Bapu, to be precise. The book, ‘Akhada: The Authorized Biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat’ sheds light on how exactly Geeta Phogat, who became the first Indian wrestler to win the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2010, was trained by her father.

Train as hard as you can

According to the book, Mahavir himself could not achieve his dream of becoming an international wrestler. However, his motto was hardships and failures only made a person stronger and there are no shortcuts when it comes to training.

“When it came to training the children, he stuck to this basic formula: Train as hard as you can.”

Surprisingly, it was not Mahavir, who was distraught at the first child being a girl. It was Daya Kaur, the mother, who was more disappointed to find that the first born, Geeta, was a girl.

Geeta, Ritu and Vinesh were introduced to wrestling back in October 2000. At that time, Geeta was aged 12 while the other two were only six years old. The book claims that the girls spent most of their formative years in the akhada, training to become a wrestler.

“The cycle of wrestle-eat-sleep-repeat seemed never-ending at the time.”

In the autobiography, Ritu is quoted as recalling, “The first few days were fun for us. Being the youngest among all the children, Vinesh and I were let off easy. We would sit and chuckle at the sight of our elder cousins sweating it out. But the fun days didn’t last long. A week into the training, Papa pulled us into the rigorous schedule, too. It no longer mattered who was six and who was 12.”

“I remember how we would always look for an opportunity to skip training. Sleeping for even 10 extra minutes in the morning would be a luxury for us,” she added.

The Phogat family (Credits: Facebook)

Initially, though, the villagers made fun of Mahavir for training his girls. Much later the hard training regimen became the talking point.

During some training sessions, Mahavir did lose his patience, though. According to the book, on one occasion, Geeta was unable to properly demonstrate a particular command and was making an error repeatedly. Mahavir’s frustration got the better of him and he started hitting her with a stick. Much to Geeta’s relief, her grandfather came up to her rescue. Mahavir’s father, who was himself a wrestler, was the only one in the family who could say anything against his son.

Geeta reminisced the several punishments endowed on herself and her sisters for failing to meet their father’s expectations. All rules had to be strictly followed, otherwise, there would be severe repercussions.

Dedication and discipline

“While other children of our age would sleep cosily in their beds, we were expected to be at the pit for training even before the cock crowed. This remains unchanged, as even today whenever we [Geeta, Babita] and the other sisters are home, we have to follow the same routine. Back then, if any of us ever fell short of Papa’s expectations during training, he would severely reprimand us.

“We would often be bawling and making a spectacle of ourselves in front of villagers, who would wake up hearing our cries at dawn. The villagers started calling him a “devil” for making us cry so often. But they all knew his temper, so they considered it best to leave the matter to him,” the book quotes Geeta.

He was not always the strict disciplinarian that he was in the akhada. Mahavir was very cheerful and loved playing with his children as any good father would do. But once in the akhada, he was no longer their father.

Geeta even mentions how Mahavir’s entire personality changed once he was in the pit. She is quoted as saying, “Papa became a completely different person as a coach. Earlier, he loved spending time and playing with us. Since his wrestling days, he was in the habit of exercising in the morning and he would often take us along, challenging us to race him. His strong, bulky body would never fail him in sprints, leaving us far behind. Back at home, he would talk to us and play pranks on us. But all this stopped when he took to coaching. His jokes and pranks were replaced by commands and reprimands.”

Mahavir himself acquiesced, according to the book. He was of the opinion that with the role of the coach came the responsibility of shaping up a wrestler who would go on to win medals for the country.

“As I stepped into the shoes of a coach, the role came with the responsibility of maintaining a strict demeanour at all times. Hence, the jokes took a back seat and discipline became a priority. I was no longer just a father or an uncle, after all.

“As a coach, I had to make sure they were disciplined both on and off the field. A sportsperson’s routine throughout the day reflects his or her attitude towards training. As all of them were quite young when we began, they could not comprehend the effect an undisciplined lifestyle would have on their future performance”, he said.

Obviously, Mahavir’s daughters had to go through all the hard training routines. The coach wanted to ensure that his pupils got the best training so that they could bring glory to the country. What drove Mahavir was the strong impulse of bringing Olympic glory for the country.

While that still remains an incomplete dream, Mahavir’s chest grows by at least one inch when any of his daughters succeed. As the book says on one of Geeta’s triumphs, “As Mahavir stood amid the cheering crowd that day, his gaze locked in on his daughter with pride, the cold winter morning of 1988 flashed before his eyes. That was the day when he had held her in his arms and emphatically proclaimed one day she will make her family proud.”

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Edited by Staff Editor