The man on whom Kadam’s role is based, P R Sondhi, the former chief coach of the Indian wrestling team, spoke to Shakya Mitra about the movie and how it undermines the role of coaches. Edited excerpts:
What is your reaction to the way you have been portrayed in Dangal?
They have downgraded the coach in Dangal. I have done many good things for India during my term as the national chief coach. This movie has portrayed me as a dummy coach, and has shown Mahavir Singh Phogat as the hero. Phogat never even once entered the training arena when his daughters used to train with me.
The film shows P R Kadam telling Geeta Phogat to go by his techniques, and not by what her father taught her. Are national coaches as rigid as shown in this movie, and do they really alter the natural techniques of wrestlers?
We never changed the techniques of the wrestlers, we only changed the mechanisms — like how to use the hands and legs when confronted with different situations. With the help of experts, we use scientific methods to correct the loopholes in a wrestler’s style. If Mahavir Singh Phogat thought so highly of his own style of coaching, then he would have kept his daughters in the village instead of sending them to us.
In the Commonwealth Games sequences, the film shows Mahavir Phogat shouting instructions from the stands to Geeta, which are contrary to what the coach is telling her. Phogat’s instructions even end up helping Geeta win. There was also the incident before the gold medal match where Phogat is locked in a room. Is there any truth to both these incidents?
The coach was sitting near the mat where the bout was taking place, Phogat was sitting in the gallery with the spectators. The makers of the film have clearly gone overboard with this. Also, with so much media presence at the event, why would anyone go ahead and lock Phogat in a room, the way it was shown in the movie? I have been informed that the makers have declared this sequence fictitious.
Did the makers of the film consult you before filming, and were you aware that there was this character based on you?
I met Aamir Khan and discussed the history of wrestling with him, I was not aware that this character was based on me. I really like Aamir, he is a good man, I don’t know why he and the director have portrayed me like this in Dangal. It’s not just me, but all coaches are angry at the portrayal. Some have even called me up to express their disappointment.
Are you planning to take legal action over the way you were portrayed in the film?
I am very happy, I know what I am. Moreover, even Geeta and Babita know of my quality. So there is no question of taking legal action.
There have been two movies this year, both featuring mega-stars on wrestling. They have both turned out to be super-hits. Is it something that pleases you?
I have neither seen Dangal nor Sultan, but I have been told they are good films. It’s just that in Dangal the chief coach was not portrayed well. These films will definitely encourage athletes to take up the sport. Moreover, I know Aamir Khan did Dangal to encourage girls to take up wrestling.
What do you have to say about the present state of Indian wrestling?
There is good money in the sport now. After 2010, it has started to become financially more rewarding. I do believe that our system needs to become better — rather than spending all the money on successful athletes like the Phogat sisters or Sakshi Malik, some of it should also go into nurturing younger athletes.
- Shakya Mitra