Geeta Phogat emerged from the small village Bilali in the Bhiwani district in Haryana. She went on to become the first woman wrestler from India to have won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Director Nitesh Tiwari brings to life her story on the big screen while Aamir Khan essays the role of her father Mahavir Singh Phogat, the disciplinarian and mentor in her life. In an exclusive interview, Geeta reveals intimate details of her life and her review of the much acclaimed Dangal.
Have you watched Dangal? How did you and your family react to it?
We really enjoyed the film. We also got extremely emotional while watching it. I want to say that everybody from Aamir sir to Sakshi Tanvarji to all the four girls – Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra, the entire team of Dangal has done a fabulous job. While watching the film, we felt our life was rewind and then the video was played out on the screen.
How close is the film to your life?
99 per cent of what is shown in the film is the truth. There’s no question of the film not being close to my life.
The Mahavir Phogat we saw in the film was such an interesting character. Was your father as strict as he was shown in the film?
He was stricter than shown in the film. He was a hardcore task master.
What are your fondest childhood memories?
It’s not possible to forget those initial 5-6 years of my training. Those were the most difficult years. We had to work really hard be it scorching heat or cold winters. My father used to wake us up at 3:30 in the morning and we had to practise in the akhada for three hours. Post which we went to school and on returning in the evening, we had to train again for 2-3 hours. The akhada and our father were the only two things we saw in our lives at that point.
That must have been tough!
Absolutely. After the morning training got over, all that was on our mind was the evening training. At the end of the day, all we could think about was the next day’s gruelling training and how we’d survive it. We spent those years just thinking about survival. Every time we thought about taking a break, our father would reprimand us by shouting out, ‘If a school going kid thinks of bunking school and if a person thinks of resting instead of working hard then that person will never achieve success in his or her life.’ The very thought of taking a rest was ‘hanikarak’ to our being. (Laughs) He demanded we keep working hard and the concept of slowing down just didn’t exist in his dictionary.
What would you say about your interaction with Aamir Khan and director Nitesh Tiwari?
Before making this film, we had already met Aamir sir 2-3 times. The first time we met was in Satyamev Jayate. And then again we met regarding the making of Dangal. My parents and all my sisters, we’ve met and chatted with him for a couple of hours each time. He’s a good man and his conduct towards us was also very good. He also respects our family a lot. Kiran ma’am too is very loving towards us.
The relation and the bond that we now share is amazing. Aamir sir had even come for my wedding which was a big deal and a joyous moment for all of us.
Were you expecting him at your wedding?
I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to make it as around that time as he was busy with the promotion of Dangal. But surprisingly, Aamir sir’s team called up and informed us that he would definitely like to attend the wedding. We were really happy that he could make it.
What would you describe as the toughest moment of your life?
The initial 5-6 years of training in my childhood were the toughest. The amount of hard work my father made us put in was phenomenal. He made life extremely difficult for us.
Which was that one moment where you felt all that you’ve gone through so far has been worth it?
In 2010, after I won the Commonwealth Games, I felt all the gruelling years in the past were worth it. That was a huge platform for me. Although I had won medals earlier in Asia Championships and even internationally, the Common Wealth medal was a big deal.
What was your father’s reaction after watching the film?
My father felt really nice and he liked the film. He’s happy. But he’s most amazed about the fact that Aamir Khan lost so much weight. Not just him, but we all feel Aamir sir worked so hard to portray my father’s character. My father feels no other actor could have done justice to his story.
What would you like to convey to the young girls of our country?
I want to tell all the girls that never feel weak or helpless. If you feel strong within, no one in this world can stop you from achieving anything. You have to be strong in your mind.
Did you actually beat up boys during your younger days?
Yes. We used to train with my cousins as there were no girls in this profession back then. There were a lot of times when we ended up fighting with the boys from our village. Around that time, my father felt even his daughters could be menacing wrestlers.
What was your husband’s reaction on watching Dangal?
After watching the film he realised that we had truly worked hard in our lives to achieve what we have today. Before that he had no idea of our struggle or hard work. After watching the film he gave me a ‘shabbashi’.