For Goonga Pehelwan
Three young filmmakers got the story of a lifetime, quite by accident. Mit Jani, Prateek Gupta (both chartered accountants) and Vivek Chaudhary (MBA graduate), who have been friends for seven years now, left the corporate world to make films. While working on a film about land grabbing mafia in 2012, a newspaper report about the goonga pehelwan or ' the mute wrestler', who had won the bronze medal at Deaflympics 2012 (Bulgaria), caught their attention, and by August 2013, the film was made. In 2013, Virender Singh won the gold medal at Deaflympics, securing a medal for the third year in a row.
But Virender's triumph brought him as much despair as well.
In 2001, a 16-year-old Virender was selected for the trials for the World Cadet Wrestling Championships. He came first in the trials, but the Wrestling Federation of India decided not to send him, citing that the competition was not meant for people with disabilities. This was Virender's first tryst with discrimination, which also excluded him from entering the Olympics.
However, some amount of research and phone calls led to the discovery that people with hearing loss are free to compete in the Olympics. But here in India, he can’t compete at the national level against non-disabled wrestlers, since there are no provisions for visual or tactile cues for deaf competitors at these events, although by law he is allowed to compete. "I am now forced to fight at dangals, traditional wrestling tournaments, just to earn whatever money I can," says Virender, through an interpreter.
A ray of hope seems to now bring in justice. The filmmakers are campaigning for Virender, who has given up on the Olympic dream. Through their movie, the filmmakers want to address two major issues. "One is equal opportunity for disabled athletes to take part in competitions for the able-bodied. Secondly, we want disabled athletes to be made eligible for cash rewards," says Prateek Gupta.
As for Virender, he asks that even if he want to go to Olympics, how will he sustain himself for the next three years. His diet alone costs him Rs 25000 every month, while his government job pays him Rs 18,000. But Virender continues to practice because perhaps somewhere there's still a lingering hope that he'll make it one day. And if the movie gets recognised, he could just live his dream.