The story of Mahavir Singh Phogat became widespread public knowledge when Indian actor, Aamir Khan, starred as the wrestling coach in a dramatized biopic of the man who forever altered women’s wrestling in India. Phogat’s official biography, penned by Saurabh Duggal, was released a few days prior to the film.
The film in question, Dangal, was another in a string of dramatized biopics that have been released in the past few years. Mary Kom, starring Priyanka Chopra as Olympic champ Mary Kom, and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, starring Farhan Akhtar as Milkha ‘The Flying Sikh’ Singh were two more that became huge successes. Compared to the actual stories of Mary Kom (Unbreakable, which I’d read the night before I saw the film) and Milkha Singh (The Race of My Life, which I read a little after watching the film), the movies downright sucked (Sorry, not sorry!).
So when I watched Dangal, I decided to let some time pass before I read the real story. And one thing I can say for sure now that I have read it is that the movie wasn’t bad, but it’s more of an entertainer, because it does almost no justice to the crazy, inspirational, and often tragic life that Phogat actually led – a life that made him the man, father, and coach that gave India some of her best wrestlers. Here’s my review of Saurabh Duggal’s Akhada: The Authorized Biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat.
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography
Length: 232 Pages
Mahavir Singh Phogat challenged the social stigma, lack of literacy, and stoic lifestyle of Haryana, a state known for its female foeticide and female infanticide, to train the girl-children of his family as wrestlers. Taking girls into a sport that was traditionally concerned a male-sport was not easy. Phogat had to fight not only deep-rooted rules written off as tradition but his own family and even tragic circumstances to fulfill his dream of training his daughters for a life different than that which the girls of their time and generation had come to accept as a given. In doing so, he became the father who gave his daughters the dream they had never dared to see, and the coach who changed the face of Indian women’s wrestling on a national and global level. Akhada is the real-life story of that man.
Overall Rating: 7 out of 10
Primary Element: 8 out of 10 for its raw-ness and simple but impactful storytelling
Writing Style: 8 out of 10
This isn’t a dramatized version of the story of a man who changed the society he lived in, but a very real look into it. And that is what makes it so good – the story had to only be told to be inspirational, it didn’t have to be embellished to be made so.
What I Liked:
The way the author showcases all the strengths of Mahavir Singh Phogat, but does not shy away from showcasing his weaknesses too, making it truly reflective of the wrestling coach.
The way the author describes the social and economic circumstances of the region for what it is, without turning it into a social justice gimmick, and consequently displaying its grim reality as well as cautious hope.
What I Didn’t Like:
The book isn’t sequential. Given the sheer number of events mentioned in the book, it makes it a little difficult to identify and follow the timeline, which takes away some of the effect of a life led full of struggles and achievements.
Who Should Read It:
Anyone interested in sports and autobiographies/biographies.
Who Should Avoid:
I don’t think anyone would dislike this book or the story it tells. Even if you aren’t interested in sports, it’s worth a read, if only for the inspirational tale it tells.
Read It For:
A look at the real struggles of real people, and the proof that greatness can come from the most unexpected of places – you just need one person to see potential. This is the story that changed the face of Indian wrestling in an unprecedented manner and has also changed the deeprooted beliefs of a system that wasn’t necessarily working. More than a tale, it’s history that shaped a different present and future and, as such, should be more known.
What did you think of Akhada? Do you feel the book was better than the movie or vice versa? Share your thoughts below. And as always, thanks for stopping by!