Dangal stars hit hard | Sports News,The Indian Express

Written by Mihir Vasavda
| New Delhi |

Updated: April 10, 2020 2:26:51 am


General photo of annual `Dangal’ at Kaimbwala village in Chandigarh on `Makersakranti’. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh/Files)

When he began the season by winning the dangal in Kapurthala on March 18, Bania Amin was salivating at the prospect of another profitable season. In the dangal universe, Amin is a showman beyond compare. His art and antics – he has a signature style while entering and exiting the mud pit: spreading wide his arms and legs, and leaping high — is why thousands pay to watch him.

And it’s also why the constable from Jammu gets paid in lakhs in appearance fees from organisers across the country.

“But on March 19, we were all told that the tournaments have been suspended. It looks like the entire season will be wiped out because of the current crisis,” Amin says. “So right now, I will not make at least Rs 30-35 lakh that I otherwise would.”

From arguably the biggest sporting event, the Olympics, to the most globalised tournament, the Premier League, to an overwhelmingly rural sport like mud wrestling, the coronavirus outbreak has spared none. And pretty much like the players and executives across the globe, the pehalwans have been counting their losses in the last few weeks.

For a seemingly small sport, the economics of a dangal season is staggering, far outweighing a lot of mainstream events in the country. The season is divided in two: March, April and May — with a spillover into June — is when the tournaments take place in Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra. After a break in July, another three-month season gets underway in Punjab.

General photo of annual `Dangal’ at Kaimbwala village in Chandigarh on `Makersakranti’. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh/Files)

There are a few tournaments held elsewhere in the country which overlap with these, but these three most dominant belts have the most packed calendars. According to Kulbir Kainour, a dangal commentator and observer, there were around 250 dangals scheduled to take place in Himachal Pradesh, where the season had just begun when the lockdown was announced. A similar number of events were to take place across Maharashtra, Arjuna Awardee Kaka Pawar adds.

All these tournaments, roughly 500 of them, are likely to be cancelled. The dozen or so which were scheduled for Wednesday alone, to mark Hanuman Jayanti, too were not held due to the nationwide lockdown.

General photo of annual `Dangal’ at Kaimbwala village in Chandigarh on `Makersakranti’. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh/Files)

“On an average, each of the 250-300 dangals have a total purse of around Rs 5 lakh. The minimum prize money at each dangal is Rs 2 lakh, with the maximum going up to Rs 7 lakh. So you can do the math,” Kainour says.

A conservative estimate of the dangal, tallying events in both Himachal and Maharashtra, would be approximately Rs 25 crore. This is just the cash prize. There are other rewards as well: tractors, cars, motorcycles and milch buffaloes.

“Each wrestler is guaranteed a participation fee,” says Rajnish Kumar ‘Bitta’, an organising committee member of one of India’s biggest dangals, held in Himachal’s Kangra district. The season-ending event, held over three days, offers prize money of close to Rs 1 crore. “There are few corporate sponsors. Mostly, it is the locals who contribute so it is not like the organisers are losing money. In fact, they are saving. The wrestlers, though, will be badly hit.”

Like Amin. The 31-year-old’s only regular income is as a constable with Jammu & Kashmir Police. During the dangal season, he fights for almost 25 days in a month, earning thousands in appearance fees. This week, Amin was to fight at back-to-back dangals in Hamirpur on Thursday and Friday, before taking a flight to Pune on Saturday for an event there.

General photo of annual `Dangal’ at Kaimbwala village in Chandigarh on `Makersakranti’. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh/Files)

Amin is one of the wrestlers who is in demand everywhere. But he isn’t the biggest, or the best, in the business. That title is reserved for Jaskanwar Singh Gill, alias Jassa Patti, who is considered to be the best pound-for-pound mud wrestler of his generation.

Gill who competes in fewer events than Amin estimates that he will be bereft of close to Rs 25 lakh this year. But he is more concerned about lower-rung wrestlers who don’t earn much and are from humble backgrounds. “We have something to fall back on. But a lot of wrestlers don’t have that luxury,” Gill says.

Amin and Gill spend close to a lakh every month on their diet. For majority of wrestlers, to sustain that will be tough in absence of tournaments. “Unlike Olympic-style wrestling, the dangal pehalwans do not receive government support. So a lot of them end up investing half of their earnings in their food and supplements,” Pawar says.

Because of the sheer nature of the sport, it is highly improbable that tournaments will be held until complete normalcy is restored. There is hope that the Rs 1 crore dangal in Kangra can be held in June to salvage some part of the season. But the organisers are also facing a unique dilemma. “After the bout, the tradition is for the wrestler to perform a lap of honour and accept prizes for the crowd,” Kainour says.

“The prize is usually cash. And in current atmosphere of social distancing, who will want to mingle with the crowd and accept cash from complete strangers?”

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