The success of Dangal, a biopic essaying the extraordinary journey of wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat and their father Mahavir Singh has garnered huge interest in wrestling.
Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal celebrates the indomitable spirit of Mahavir Singh Phogat, an amateur wrestler and coach who dared to dream big for his daughters and trained them to be wrestlers. It is no mean feat in a deeply patriarchal society of Haryana.
All the Phogat sisters Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Vinesh, Priyanka and Sangita are amateur wrestlers. Geeta, Babita and Vinesh have won gold medals in different weight categories in the Commonwealth Games.
Geeta Phogat was the first female Indian wrestler to qualify for the Olympics.
The Phogat family comes from Balali village in Haryana’s Bhiwani district. What makes her story extraordinary is that Geeta has excelled in a male-dominated sport in a place where it is customary for women to work only at home.
Mahavir Singh was keen that his daughters learn kushti, the traditional Indian style of wrestling. Geeta’s first training ground was an enclosure adjoining the cattle shed in her home. She was excused from doing household chores so that she could concentrate on training.
Geeta’s father was a hard taskmaster on the wrestling pit. As there were no female wrestlers in the village, the Phogat girls had mud bouts with boys. They became famous as ‘the sisters who beat all the boys’!
The rigorous training paid off as the young Phogats began winning medals at wrestling tournaments. Geeta won gold in the 2009 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship and the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the 55 kg women’s freestyle wrestling.
Inspired by Geeta’s success, other girls in the village have taken up wrestling and are taking lessons from Mahavir Singh.