Bollywood has capitalized on the success stories of the nation’s most well-known stars, most of them being cricketers. Understandably so, given the nation’s frenzied cricket fanaticism. Although, with the advent of successful sporting biopics, several under-recognized sports have been given due attention- with the likes of Mary Kom and Dangal.
Now Bollywood producers recognizing this lucrative narrative resource, have already lined up biopics for the likes of Saina Nehwal, Pullella Gopichand and a few more.
In this milieu, we are bound to forget India’s athletes who were never given the deserved attention and reverence for their athletic excellence owing to a lack of media presence. So, as an act of due appreciation here is a list of five athletes who deserve a biopic for their incredible contribution to Indian sport:
Flying Rani, Payyoli Express, Golden Girl… the nicknames are as countless as the 102 international medals and 1,000-plus awards she has earned at national and state-level meets. But Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha is not just a champion in the world of athletics.
This sporting legend has hurdled past cumbersome life situations, overcoming humble beginnings, financial difficulties, inadequate facilities, and diseases to become one of the greatest athletes to ever have represented India on the tracks in the Olympics.
At the tender age of 16, she became the youngest Indian sprinter to compete in the Olympics. She placed at the fourth position in 400 meters hurdles in 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, is by far the closest to an Olympic medal on the tracks by an Indian female athlete! This is precisely why P T Usha’s inspiring story deserves to be told!
Winning an astonishing three Olympic gold medals, being India’s first flag-bearer, as well as bearing a stupefying goal-count, at 93 years of age Balbir Singh Sr is India’s oldest living Olympian. Sadly, this unsung hero of Indian hockey’s golden era remains unknown to most Indians.
It is said that Balbir Sr’s unusual upright posture while striking left the goal-keepers confused and eventually bamboozled as they had no clue which side he was going to shoot! This maverick posture and immense talent made him India’s top goal scorer – at London, Helsinki, and Melbourne. With his athletic journey, unfortunately, clashing with the perils of the partition, Balbir Singh’s story is seemingly curated for the cinematic experience.
In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Karnam Malleswari wasn’t just lifting weights she was lifting the sullen spirits of everyone back at home. Few in her remote village of Voosavanipeta in Andhra Pradesh or anywhere else in India for that matter would have dreamt of weightlifter Karnam Malleswari being India’s only medallist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics – bronze in the 69kg category.. The ‘Iron Lady’, as she was endearingly referred to then, later regretted her decision to go for 137.5kg in her third attempt in the clean jerk. If not for that illegitimate lift, she might have possibly won gold.
That does not take away from, however, from a stunning achievement, which saw her become the first woman from India to win an Olympic medal. To those following her career, Malleswari’s bronze was not a major surprise, given her natural gift and the fact that she had won two gold and two silver medals in the World Championships and a few gold medals at the Asian level.
Hers is a story of overcoming against the cumbersome odds, a rural Indian girl who was unaware of the intricate equipment athletes utilize to compete amongst the worlds’ best. All this starting with an aspiration brewed from her shed in Voosavanipeta, Andhra Pradesh. A story of grit, talent, and determination, indeed.
The double Olympian Shankar Laxman, died at the age of 73, as an unheralded hero who is often regarded, amongst those who are aware, as India’s greatest hockey player of all time. He was India’s first goalkeeper who captained an international hockey team, he was a pillar of consistency as he was the first player to play in three successive Olympic finals. Shankar Laxman was also the figure to be reckoned with during those heated Pakistan and India onslaughts, as well as in the remarkable India v Pakistan at the 1964 Olympic finals. In fact, his opponents called him the Rock of Gibraltar!
Impeccably modest he was the only player from the team chosen to garner the respected Arjun award. In 1966 he captained India in the Asian Games in Bangkok and again beat Pakistan for the gold medal. In 1967 he was presented with the prestigious Padma Shri award by the President of India for his sporting achievements. Ignored and forgotten by the hockey authorities and aficionados, the pitiable fact remains that he died in poverty whilst he suffered through an agonizing Gangrene infection. A lamentable fact that we can only rewrite by refreshing his legacy in the minds of Indians.
Devendra Jhajharia marked his entry in the history books of Indian Sport, when he became India’s only double gold-medallist with a stunning throw of 63.7m in the men’s F46 Javelin Throw, beating the current world record, which he of course, at set himself. The one-armed thrower had won the gold medal at the Athens Games in 2004.
Jhajharia, who already has an extensive list of sporting glory to his name, was born into a low-income family of Churu district in Rajasthan. At the tender age of eight, he lost his left hand to an electric wire he contacted whilst climbing a tree. His success as a javelin thrower, an achievement that only gains reverence in the light of his financial setbacks is testament to his tenacity and immense talent..
India’s flag-bearer at the 2016 Paralympics, Jhajharia was awarded the Arjuna award in 2004 and the Padma Shri in 2012, becoming the first Paralympic to receive the honor. Certainly, his grit and excellence beckon the question if a biopic can successfully capture the brilliance of this man with sufficient dignity and grace.
However, we must note, that there are still several athletes who continue to carry the great Indian sporting legacy and showcase the spirit, grit, and talent of the great athletes before them.
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