Kabaddi is a native sport that was largely popular in rural India. But with the glamourising of the sport through a professional league that gave it a national as well as international audience, it was only a matter of time before Bollywood gave it some well-deserved attention.
With Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's taking up "Panga", a story which explores life of a national level kabaddi player, and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra working on a subject revolving around the sport, Bollywood is continuing the trend of looking at the sports arena for inspiration. And it's a win-win situation for all.
"A Bollywood movie on the sport will definitely add more value and help in elevating it. Movies like 'Dangal', 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' and 'Soorma' have received immense appreciation," former captain of the Indian National Kabaddi Team Anup Kumar told IANS.
"Today's youth now know about Milkha Singh because they watched the movie. Similarly, a movie on kabaddi will educate people more about the game," he added.
Monu Goyat, who attracted the highest bid of Rs 1.51 crore this time at the 2018 Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) auction, also feels "if a movie is being made on the sport, it will definitely help the sport grow".
In a same vein, another player, Rishank Devadiga, said: "A Bollywood movie on kabaddi will make the sport famous on a global platform and will help elevate its stature. Movies made on cricket stars like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar have garnered so much popularity and the same will happen to kabaddi."
The game's roots can be traced back to Indian mythology, and it has different names in different parts of the country. But the format and the zeal with which people play the sport remain the same -- irrespective of language or regional barrier. It has also found a way to enter people's living room through the entertaining format of PKL, which has Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan as one of the team owners.
Looking back at the challenges associated with sports, Kumar said: "In my career, my biggest challenge was my family. During a phase of my life, my family members insisted that I study and believed that kabaddi had no future. My mother used to support me. However, my father and brother were totally against the idea of me playing kabaddi. They believed that this was a fad and it would end soon."
Goyat added: "Earlier, as players, we used to manage our stay during practice, cook our own food and if there was a medical problem we used to treat it ourselves. Now we have multiple facilities and are well taken care of as players."
Lack of financial security was another hurdle.
"My mother never encouraged me to play the sport as she believed that I might break a bone or two. But that never stopped me from pursuing the sport and, at times, I hid from her and went for training and matches. I continued playing kabaddi in my school and college, but later had to start working to help my family financially," Devadiga said, adding that there was a time he had to decide between playing the sport and doing a full-fledged job.
"I chose the former."
Kumar, Goyat and Devadiga expressed their views on kabaddi -- which was perceived as a rural sport for a long time -- on the sidelines of the shoot for the VIVO Pro Kabaddi season VI campaign, to be aired on Star Sports.
It's a sport in which the Indian team has been bagging the gold at the Asian Games year on year, but this time they suffered disappointment at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta. To see the silver lining, it was their first defeat in 28 years.
The sport has grown over all these years with government support, the players point out.
"The government has supported the sport a lot and PKL has changed the entire scenario. Now, we get to travel in flights, play on good mats, stay in five-star hotels and physiotherapists and doctors travel with us.
"We also get great training and the government now provides us with sufficient cash rewards and stable jobs. All these factors have helped us in our performance and provided us the mental conditioning required to play the sport," Kumar said.
Devadiga said the kabaddi league "has bought the sport the importance which was missing all this while".
"Now, kabaddi is considered as a viable career option and this has been possible because of the league. From a facilities point of view, new stadiums have come up and players have personal trainers and physiotherapists who travel with them on a regular basis.
"The government has always been supportive and not just of kabaddi, but all sports. The entire Indian sports ecosystem has changed for the better and as a player one couldn't ask for more," added Devadiga -- who credits the sport for transforming his life.