Kayfabe, Professional Wrestling and India
An Indo-Canadian professional wrestler by the name of Yuvraj Singh Dhesi, wrestling under the pseudonym of Jinder Mahal, has just claimed the highest honour in singles pro wrestling competition, the WWE Championship, by defeating the 14-time champion Randall Keith "Randy" Orton via Pinfall at WWE's Backlash Pay Per View event.
As the images of Jinder victoriously raising the WWE Championship beamed worldwide, an outpour of jubilant support started flowing in on Social Media.
The messages were being sent in by the massive Indian contingent of the WWE Universe in support of "their guy" Jinder having won the championship. The Indian fans seemed overcome with happiness and euphoria as they referred to Jinder as the "strongest" and the "greatest" professional wrestler ever, amongst a myriad of other similarly-worded praises and commendations.
Of course, this resulted in a frenzied discussion amongst the "smarks" of the Internet Wrestling Community, rife with insults and demeaning remarks directed towards the Indian fans.
"Do these people know that wrestling is fake?"
"Do they realise that it's all scripted?"
"Why are they so excited?"
"It's just a storyline!"
Professional wrestling has been telecasted in India since 1995. A sports channel by the name of "Star Sports" was the first one to carry the then-WWF's weekly programming on their platform. Prior to Star Sports doing so, VHS tapes of professional wrestling used to be bootlegged in India by video stores and had quite the market for themselves.
The baton of professional wrestling telecast in India was since passed between Star Sports, TNT and now rests firmly with Ten Sports. But despite all the transitions in telecasting platforms and the nature of programming itself, the popularity of professional wrestling in India never once dwindled and continues to rise to this day.
The Undertaker, Kane, Brock Lesnar, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, John Cena, Batista, Triple H are all household names in India that enjoy massive fanfare. Incomparable to any Hollywood celebrities, their popularity in India can probably only be rivalled by top-tier Bollywood Superstars.
But do Indian fans believe that professional wrestling is real?
The concept of Kayfabe is probably not as well discussed nor understood in India as it is in the west. However, with the advent of technology and exposure to the Internet, most Indian fans today do realise that the "sport" that they've been fans of for the better part of their lives is not really a sport, but a choreographed display of athleticism, power and storytelling.
The reality has also been further hammered home by statements such as ones by The Great Khali, who has publicly spoken about the dramatised nature of professional wrestling several times on national television in India. News and entertainment channels have also run several specials exposing the WWE as being “fake” over the years.
Why is it then that Indian fans continue to tune in and involve themselves so passionately with what's going on in the WWE? Why can't they just take the spectacle for what it is and do away with the over-reactions to everything?
The answer to that probably lies in understanding the way India works.
The second most populous country in the world is hardly a land of dreams. With limited opportunities and only so much to go around for everyone, most Indians only ever aspire for stability in their lives, and little else.
Ambitions are nipped in the bud by the harsh cleavers of the reality very early, and the bar of contentment is set low, with most Indians being satiated with careers that merely meet expenses and take care of their families.
With little success in their own lives and barely anything to look forward to, the Indian fan turns to other forms of entertainment, where they can suspend disbelief and vicariously experience everything that they aren't able to in their own lives.
Be it Cricket, Bollywood or Indian Television; they're all forms of vicarious projection by the common Indian person, where they find the success, enjoyment and vindication that they've never had.
And this is where the WWE comes in.
It's a spectacle of primal physicality where men and women battle it out against each other in hard-hitting competition, where impressive athleticism and incredible physiques are put on display and where the storylines are replete with drama, emotion and excitement.
It is but the perfect cocktail of everything that an Indian fan could possibly ask for. The physiques, athleticism, larger-than-life personas and the vindication delivered by a well-deserved victory, is everything that your standard Indian fan finds missing in their own lives.
Suspension of disbelief, or the act of conveniently ignoring/forgetting the fact that what's going on the screen is all scripted, comes very naturally to us Indians.
Life in India is unforgivingly harsh, tougher than most western counterparts of the WWE Universe will probably ever be able to imagine. It requires a lot of grit and determination to go through the excruciatingly mundane routines that most Indians do, just to be able to provide for themselves and their families.
To be able to sit back and forget all that we go through on a daily basis to enjoy the victory of one of our own isn't much to ask for when you consider everything else.
If an Indian fan can get up in the morning and go about his/her life under the crushing weight of responsibilities, expectations, societal pressure and a crippling realisation of the unforgiving nature of reality, then suspending disbelief in the fact that professional wrestling is a staged spectacle is all but a child's play.
Jinder's victory is not celebrated by the Indian fans because they think that he's the best professional wrestler in the world, or a "God", or anything ridiculous along those lines.
They celebrate his win because they consider the win as their own. Mahal is a representation of the repressed dreams and ambitions of the Indian fan. He is one of us, out there, doing his thing, achieving everything he had set his heart out to, conquering nigh-impossible challenges to become the champion of the world. He is every Indian fan of professional wrestling, he is India.
The narrative speaks to every single person back home, and even though it might just be a storyline, it's a damn good one.
The Indian fans understand professional wrestling for what it really is. However, they are an emotional lot, have always been one and will forever continue to be this way, it really is what makes them so unique. Their personal investment in Jinder’s win is due to their suspension of disbelief, not because they think that the WWE is unscripted.
So if you are an internet smark that has a problem with others rejoicing over a “scripted” turn of events, then maybe it’s time for you to take a long look at yourself because you probably have bigger issues to take care of than some “jobber” winning the WWE Championship.
And with that, I’ll leave you with the video of Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship celebration, all hail the Maharajah!
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