When Jayant Lade and Mangesh Kanthale — two sports enthusiasts associated with Marathi cinema — decided to make a film centred at a team sport, their obvious preference was not for cricket, it was for kabaddi. And, given the special position kabaddi occupies throughout Maharashtra, where it is known as hu tu tu, they were certain that they had a sure-shot winner of a script in their hands.
Kanthale, the director of Sur Sapata produced by I Speed Entertainment, which hit the floors in May and is likely to release at the end of the year, says he was waiting precisely for such a theme to make his directorial debut. “I was certain that I will start my career as a helmsman with a movie on sports. Considering that we are having films like Sultan and Dangal [on wrestling] releasing now and also that Marathi film industry is being keenly watched after > Sairaat’s success , this was the right time to make a film like Sur Sapata ,” he says.
Kanthale and Jayant Lade, whose company Lade Bros Films is also involved in the production of the movie, say the film focusses on the lives of a bunch of teenage wastrels in a Maharashtrian village. “Having been written off by their teachers in studies, they find common purpose in playing good kabaddi for their village and go on to compete with city teams,” says Lade, who considers himself the film’s ‘presenter’.
Underdog tales with a team sport as their key motif are not at all a novelty in Indian cinema. However, considering the near-religious fervour cricket arouses among Indians, film-makers have considered the game their safest bet. Chak De India (2007) made a brave departure from this by focusing on hockey — women’s hockey to be more specific — and successfully creating the aesthetic appeal of a Lagaan .
Kabaddi is perhaps the sport that comes closest to cricket and hockey in being considered national. It is an underappreciated display of camaraderie where India has enjoyed total dominance, winning all 7 gold medals at the Asian Games. Kabaddi is also the ‘State sport’ in six Indian States, including Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. “It is a mitti se juda sport (a sport with direct connection to the soil, a sport of the masses). Since it does not involve much money, people belonging to any social stratum can play. In Maharashtra, specifically, its its popularity is unparalleled. Every village has its own kabaddi team,” says Kanthale.
A quick Wikipedia search reveals that the success of Tamil director Suseenthiran’s debut movie Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu (2009) spawned a string of similar-themed movies, including remakes like Bheemili Kabaddi Jattu (2010) in Telugu and Badlapur Boys (2014) in Hindi. There have been movies in Kannada, Punjabi, even in Nepali but perhaps not in Marathi. With rich source material on kabaddi being available in Maharashtra, which has produced many Arjuna Award-winning players, it was natural that the makers of Sur Sapata would consider it a sport of choice. Also, after the success of biopics like Paan Singh Tomar , Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Mary Kom , creating verisimilitude out of non-cricketing sporting events could be considered more mainstream.
Kanthale and Lade say Sur Sapata, shot in Junnar, Maharashtra, is currently in its post-production stage, with some visual effects (VFX) work remaining to be done. Lade also says he is in the process of making a documentary on the passion for kabaddi among Maharashtrians. He has begun interviewing national-level and regional-level players, both former and current. “I intend to talk to about 40-50 players in total, including the eight Arjuna Award winners from the State. The documentary will pay a tribute to their achievements,” he says, adding that he wants to release it before Sur Sapata .
Currently tight-lipped about the cast of the movie, both Kanthale and Lade say most of the central characters are played by children studying in Standard-IX/X. “Apart from that, we have many national-award winning actors both from Marathi and Hindi. We will tell more about the cast in another two months once the post-production work is over,” they say.
Lade, whose first film A Paying Ghost (2015) that was based on Vasant Kale’s novel Badali was screened in 18 different cities across the world, intends to take Sur Sapata to at least 30 countries. “We aim to create greater enthusiasm for kabaddi through our effort,” he says.