Will the Dangal family teach wrestling to South Koreans? Yes, if the First Lady wants
The story of a family from a conservative Indian state that broke every stereotype — and won on the world stage — inspired Aamir Khan’s 2016 blockbuster Dangal. It’s a film that has resonated not just across India, but across Asia, and one of its admirers is the First Lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, who has met the family, the Phogats, on her state visit to India (July 8-11), with the South Korean premier Moon Jae-in. What’s more, the First Lady has expressed an interest in inviting the family of wrestlers to her own country to teach the wrestling moves to South Koreans and spread the message of gender equality.
On July 10, in an intimate set-up for high tea in Delhi, the title track of Dangal played as Kim Jung-sook entered the room and instantly recognised Geeta Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal. “Geeta, you’re Geeta...” the First Lady said in an elated tone, and the Olympian stepped forward to greet her.
A self-confessed fan of the film Dangal, Kim Jung-sook met the Phogat family — father Mahavir Singh Phogat, wife Daya Kaur, daughters Geeta and Babita Phogat — over high tea, and congratulated them on overcoming so many hurdles and attaining the stature of international athletes. The family gifted the First Lady a sky blue sari and a mace, the weapon of Lord Hanuman, the deity of Indian wrestlers.
Through an interpreter, Kim Jung-sook spoke of her appreciation for Daya Kaur — the film shows her as a source of quiet strength (as played by Sakshi Tanwar) — and asked, “Did the girls feel embarrassed about training and running around the fields like boys in a village?” Mahavir replied, “There were a lot of obstacles that the girls had to overcome in their youth, to lead the disciplined life that has made them the international sports personalities they are today.”
Kim Jung-sook told Mahavir that she became “emotional” while watching Dangal and was awestruck by the kind of discipline he instilled in his daughters so that they could become gold medal-winning wrestlers — after Geeta, sister Babita also won gold at the Commonwealth Games.
Mahavir tells us, “The First Lady mentioned that she was so inspired by the film and our lives that she’d go back to South Korea and try and invite our entire family there, so that we can teach wrestling to South Koreans, and also create awareness that there shouldn’t be discrimination between boys and girls.”
An overwhelmed Babita says, “Though she wasn’t able to understand our language directly, she was so responsive to whatever we tried to explain. After all, the impact of a real story is always real.” About the gifts, she adds, “Gada ek pehelwan ki shakti ka prateek hai, that’s why our papa decided to gift one to her.”
The Phogat family with Kim Jungsook (centre, holding a mace), the First Lady of South Korea