EXCLUSIVE: Dangals of Crime Director Niyantha Shekar Talks About Making the Docu Series, Entering the World of Indian Wrestling

Published 01/28/2022, 11:30 AM EST

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Amateur wrestling is a popular sport in India and has been played and practiced for a long time. The Pehelwans (wrestlers) playing Kushti (wrestling) in their Akhadas have been a part of North-India’s rural landscape for a long time. It’s a part of the culture which has contributed immensely to the development of wrestlers of international renown from India. 

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Ishan Chavan from EssentiallySports conducted an exclusive interview with Niyantha Shekar, director of the docuseries on Discovery+, Dangals Of Crime. The docuseries will take viewers through the rise of the Olympic sport of wrestling in India, while also exploring the dark side of crime associated with it. Here are the excerpts of the interview: 

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The next project Dangals of Crime, is this something that came from your mind? Did you develop this? Or was it presented to you?

So basically, Vice media is the production house behind this project, and Discovery is the broadcaster. So Vice and Discovery had discussions about this topic, about making a documentary on this topic. They then reached out to me to see if I would be interested as a director to come on board. And so that was my entry point into the project. And I was immediately interested and curious to know more about this topic. So that’s how I came onboard. 

Looking at your past work, you haven’t done something that we could call monotonous. You’ve always done different kinds of projects. And how was this experience with Dangals of Crime?

I mean, it was a very interesting, fascinating experience for me, like you said, I try to do different kinds of topics and projects. And so this was along those lines for me. I mean, of course, I had known about Indian wrestling, like a lay person, but I didn’t know the nitty gritties of the world, I didn’t know the passion that exists for the sport in Delhi NCR, in Haryana, the dreams and aspirations of so many young children to become top-level athletes.

So, as an experience, it was incredible for me to get to spend that time in Haryana and Delhi to visit so many different Akhadas to see how kids trained; to look at how they live, how they train, the blood, sweat, tears, all of that. So it was quite a fascinating experience for me, as a filmmaker to get to see all of that, because without this project, I don’t think I would have had that opportunity.

Speaking of you going to Haryana, and actually, spending time there, how long did it take for you to make this Docuseries a reality?

So I came on board to this project in July last year and we shot the documentary in September. So, basically July to September, we used to do our research, and understand the story that we wanted to tell. And then we shot in September, and then took the rest of the year to put it together in post-production. So that is roughly the timeline for the show.

There’s a lot of research that you have put into it. And there are some big names, there are some facts that people will be amazed to know about in this. So what more you know, what chord does Dangals of Crime offer to the audience?

I kind of see Dangals of Crime from a content perspective. There’s a two-fold thing that I see one is, of course, the crime aspect of it. But there is also the aspect of how did wrestling become what it is today in India, focusing on the North. Specifically, what wrestling was like in the 70s and 80s. What our aspirations were, what place Dangals held in the minds of wrestlers at the time, and how many great wrestlers back in the day were not able to convert that into Olympic medals back then. And what were the reasons for that? What were the infrastructural reasons for that? What were the sporting reasons for that, and how that transformation happened, how we became a country that could win medals and are continuing to win medals globally.

So I think that’s also an interesting part of the story to say that, this is a sport that inspires have this perception battle, in spite of the various struggles that they face, is able to keep pushing forward and keep winning, and that the passion has not extinguished on the ground, the passion amongst the kids to make it at the top is still quite strong. So I think that is also an aspect of this documentary that I feel viewers will find interesting. Apart from, of course, the crime side of things.

I also feel that it would be a matter of pride for a lot of people to actually see how far Indian wrestling has come probably in just two decades from the 90s to the 2000s, early 2010s. And speaking of wrestling, did you have some kind of wrestling fandom for amateur or professional wrestling, as a kid?

To be honest, I didn’t, I mean, of course, the WWF, WWE that everyone grows up on, which is not professional wrestling. But no, I mean, this project was really my first entry point into properly understanding wrestling, both from a cultural and sporting level. I’m someone who loves sports in general, and find sports stories very interesting. So that’s why I jumped at the opportunity to work on this project.

Because, again, I’d seen wrestling from a distance, I had not really gone deep into the sport. And so this project offered me the chance for the first time and I have to really go deep in and understand what it takes to be a champion wrestler, all the hard work and support that is needed to make it to the top. And the whole kind of ecosystem that exists to make a great wrestler.

So with this entire project, it’s something that no one has tried before and I would say a dedicated series for amateur wrestling or the Akhadas of India. So, when you were getting into the dark side of it, how difficult was it for you to film all those things and get all of it captured by the camera?

I mean, the way we approached, we took a very step-by-step approach, where we first went as a team of two-three people, and met the different people and to understand the ground reality. And so we took that period to build trust with people before we even brought cameras or crews there.

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So once people had built, people believe that, you know, our intentions were good, and that, you know, we want to tell their story through their voices, it became easier after that, and so after that, we brought our cameras to shoot with them. And so the intention was always it should feel like a two-way street, that we are telling their story. And so they need to feel empowered and in control. And so once that trust was built, then it became easier to bring the camera and actually start filming.

‘Dangals of Crime – The Untold Truth About Indian Wrestling’ is now streaming only on the Discovery+ app.

If you wish to use any quotes or an excerpt from this exclusive interview, kindly credit and h/t EssentiallySports.com with a link back to this transcription.

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You can watch the trailer here:-

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Written by:

Tushar Deogharkar

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Tushar Deogharkar is a WWE writer at EssentiallySports. Tushar has done his Master's in Tourism Management and is an ardent fan of pro wrestling. He follows WWE and AEW very closely and wants to learn how the promotions are run.
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