Dangal portrays wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat’s tough training methods which pushed daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita and niece Vinesh to sporting stardom in wrestling.
Dangal’s climax is around Mahavir being locked out as Geeta wins the gold at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games, showing the chief national coach in a negative role. (Read: Sushil to make WWE debut?)
However, unlike the reel character in Dangal, the real chief national coach, PR Sondhi, was the one who invited Mahavir to the pre-CWG camp in Patiala and only banished him because the overzealous father was providing training on the side, which would have led to injuries for his two girls, says Akhada, the book on the Mahavir Singh Phogat saga by Hindustan Times journalist, Saurabh Duggal.
Mahavir Phogat explains in the book: “I was not convinced with the intensity of the training the girls were undergoing at the camp. Hence, I decided to conduct extra training before their morning session at the camp.
“I knew the girls were not happy with double training, but one has to burn the body in the furnace to achieve something.”
Mahavir’s role in shaping the wrestling careers of his daughters and niece, unheard of in rural Haryana, was respected by Sondhi.
“During the camp, he expressed a keen interest in learning some techniques and our training protocol. We had no problem with that and wanted to support his mission of empowering women to achieve Olympic glory,” he says in the book.
Sondhi encouraged parents to visit the camp, but Mahavir, who temporarily shifted from Balali in Haryana, 250 km away from Patiala, with family to help his daughters and ensure home-cooked food, added training sessions of his own.
Mahavir Phogat initially made Geeta Phogat and Babita, tired after day long training, work out in the evening. It left the girls exhausted at the camp and led to a confrontation between Sondhi and Mahavir.
“Mahavir is an old-school thinker. For him, the more intense the workout, the more strength you gain, and the level of strength ultimately decided how you did on the mat. But modern wrestling has evolved into a blend of technique and strength,” the book quotes Sondhi as saying.
“Finally, to stop him from imposing his school of thought on his daughters, we decided to ban him for entering the hall during the session and even made it a point to lock the hall afterwards.”
“While we salute Mahavir for what he has done for the sport and for the society, we could not let him run things his way for the good of the girls. That’s why he was banned from entering the camp. Fortunately, he didn’t resist our move and later even understood my point,” says Sondhi.
Mahavir switched tack and started putting his daughters through rigorous physical exercises before dawn. Geeta and Babita themselves looked for an escape route from the ‘torture’, switching off their mobiles to prevent their father from summoning them out of the camp hostel.
“One-and-a-half hours of physical exercise with our father amounts to a lot,” explains Geeta Phogat in the book.
“He would always get to the training grounds before us, so we would begin our sessions as soon as we go there… We would feel drained at times, but we still gave our 100 per cent at the camp so that our coaches would not give us low scores. But, somehow, the coaches found out about our pre-training schedule and they began to discourage us from going.”
Mahavir Phogat acknowledges Sondhi’s contribution.
“Sondhi is a good coach and I had interacted with him number of times during the national camp for the 2010 CWG. I have a good relation with him.”
But Mahavir is still unhappy he was kept out of the Patiala camp. “That issue was different,” he says.