‘Bajrangi’ Salman fuels Bollywood dreams of Asola’s mud wrestlers

  • Abhinav Rajput &Vatsala Shrangi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 22, 2016 16:44 IST
Wrestlers from Asola have been given roles in Salman Khan movies . (Sanchit Khanna/HT photo)

Young men in fancy tracks feed buffaloes and engage in idle banter in this Gujjar-dominated village on the southern fringes of Delhi. Their older counterparts in white kurta pyjamas smugly smoke hookah outside their houses that are an awkward blend of urban and rural architecture.

Asola-Fatehpur Beri is dotted by SUVs and Enfield Bullet motorcycles are parked outside almost every other house.

But there is another striking feature about Asola — starry-eyed youngsters brimming with aspirations to make a mark in Bollywood.

Wrestlers practising in an akhara in Asola. Apart from keeping alive the age-old traditional sport, wrestling has also become a way for youngster in Asola village to share screen space with Bollywood stars. (Sanchit Khanna/HT photo)

Ravinder Pehalwan (27) is one such young tinsel town enthusiast.

Framed pictures of Pehalwan with Bollywood actors adorn the wall of the drawing room that has eight charpais for visitors, a fancy sofa and a large centre table with a Hindi newspaper on it.

“Here I am with Ranbir Kapoor,” says Ravinder pointing to a photo. “This was when I was part of his security team when he came to Nizamuddin to shoot for Rockstar. I also featured in the movie,” he said.

The dusty village, once known for producing bouncers, has now become a hot recruiting ground for Bollywood in search of tall, robust men to play toughies. Asola’s tryst with Bollywood goes back about a decade when it started providing bouncers for Bollywood stars who visited the Capital for film shoots.

“Have you seen Bajrangi Bhaijan? Everyone in the village has seen the movie many times just to see us. Sometimes people call me Munni,” said Ravinder, who played a wrestler in the movie.

There are several others in the village who have played small roles in movies and TV serials and the villagers fawn over their ‘stars’. It is not surprising then that young men of Asola who earlier aspired to work as bouncers at pubs, bars and nightclubs, are now pursuing Bollywood dreams.

Enrolments in the local gyms and akharas have gone up in Asola. (Sanchit Khanna/HT photo)

For inspiration they, however, have not just Ravinder but other young Tanwars of the village too — Sonu , 21, Pawan, 18, and Girish, 21. These men also featured in the Salman-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

The young men say Salman Khan, with whom they built a good rapport during the shooting of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, reportedly motivated them to audition for his next movie, Sultan, which will feature seven young men from the village. Another three would be part of Aamir Khan’s upcoming movie Dangal.

“Shooting for a movie is fun and we earn about `1,000 per day. The producers take care of all our dietary needs. Bollywood taught me how men and women work and live together in the same space,” said Sonu Tanwar.

It is, however, sheer love for movies mostly that drives these young men to Bollywood and not any economic compulsion. Ravinder, for instance, has three houses in the village and 10 buffaloes, a source of steady income for him.

Read: Bajrangi Bhaijaan villain hopes to fill Amrish Puri’s space in Bollywood

The boys are enjoying their celebrity status in the village. They are asked to pose for selfies at parties. “Sometimes, even girls ask for our autographs,” said Girish Tanwar, Ravinder’s neighbour, who also featured in the movie. “At local gatherings or parties, our parents proudly tell everyone that we acted in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Being a bouncer does not get one this kind of attention,” he said.

Ask these starry-eyed ‘musclemen’ of Asola about their favourite actor and most will instantly say Salman. But when it comes to favourite actresses, they just blush.

What makes these youngsters happier is the fact that Salman Khan wanted to ‘emulate’ them in some respects.

“Salman sir would often exercise with us and say he wants to build a collar bone like us. He gave us a few gymming tips too,” Girish said.

Asola boasts of many other heroes too. Sudhir Tanwar, 43, a former wrestler and now a coach at an akhara, played a commando in Rang De Basanti. “Whenever the movie is playing on television my children jump in joy. I have been a celebrity in the village ever since,” says Tanwar.

Ravi Tanwar, 32, who is popularly known as Bubbly in the village for his role in Jasoos Vijay, detective series on Doordarshan, in which he played a cop will be featuring in upcoming Salman film Zubaan along with Ravinder.

The man who helped Asola youth to build sturdy bodies is a proud man.

Asola village elders say the young men have aspirations and Bollywood stars are their role models. (Sanchit Khanna/HT photo)

Around 35 boys come to Bhagat Singh Tanwar’s (44) akhara every day. “Most of them now want to do either Bollywood roles or appear on the small screen. When line producers come to the akhara, I present all the boys before them. They pick and chose according to the suitability of the roles,” said Tanwar, a state-level Kabbadi player himself.

Sudarshan Tanwar, a respected elderly in the village, says that the village is changing fast in terms of its aspirations and role models. “We are pretty happy about it. The younger generation of the village is seeking fame like never before. We shall be happy if our famed bouncers become Bollywood stars.”

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