Meet India’s most expensive non-cricket sportsperson: pro-kabaddi star Monu Goyat
What happens when the son of a farmer becomes a millionaire overnight?Updated: Jul 15, 2018 00:16 IST
It was one of those rare days in Delhi when the sun wasn’t shining. There was the usual pre-shoot frenzy – the customary calls to the entire crew followed by the standard lacklustre greetings that swiftly transform into the rush to get on with the work. Everything was as per tradition, except our uncannily shy cover star travelling all the way from Hisar to reach the location.
Unlike most shoots, our greatest fear wasn’t to finish on time or to get the hair absolutely slick or shoot all the clothes crinkle-free. We had to make sure Monu Goyat – our cover star – felt at ease in front of the camera. ‘Why don’t you get a Punjabi playlist? It’ll pump him up,’ messaged Farhan, the photographer, a day before the shoot. So I packed a speaker (along with the rest of the stuff) and we started the shoot with a pre-curated Punjabi playlist on YouTube.
Enters Monu Goyat – kabaddi’s oxytocin.
Ordinary person, extraordinary player
“Women send me ‘I love you’ messages on Instagram. I don’t know how to respond to that”
As the shoot began, we huddled around him – directing Monu from five different positions. We asked him to look into the camera and then away, sit down and then move, hunch and then walk, jump in a gymnastic split and repeat. He listened to all of us patiently, slowly turning his frozen postures into acrobatic amusements. “This was tougher than playing kabaddi,” he laughed as we wrapped up.
Throughout the day, Monu seldom acted like the star sportsperson that he is (no starry tantrums whatsoever). It’s easy to be fooled by his shy demeanour. But his gravity-defying moves made him into a millionaire overnight when Haryana Steelers bought him at a whopping price of Rs 1.51 crore for season six of Pro Kabaddi League. This made him one of the six (five Indian and one international) players to have crossed the 1 crore mark and, as a result, more valuable than some of the best sportpersons in football, wrestling and badminton. Since then not only has Monu – a farmer’s son and an army man – rewritten his own life story, but he has also shown new heights in this rural sport.
The magic of Monu Goyat isn’t just restricted to the field. His success in kabaddi – a sport once devoid of glitz and glamour – has enamoured celebrities like Abhishek Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar. “I do meet Bollywood stars now. I used to watch their films as a child. Of course, I wanted to meet them at the time but I never thought it would be possible one day. It’s like living a dream. They come to see the matches. They talk to me like they talk to their contemporaries. Abhishek Bachchan came to see me before and after the match. He also congratulated me after I won. And for any sport to rise, being associated to a celebrity helps. One of my team mates, Rohit Kumar, has tattooed Akshay Kumar’s name on his arm. All of us call him Akki. He’s a big fan of Akshay! But I like Sanjay Dutt,” Monu smiles.
Despite his modest personality, Monu – who started playing kabaddi during his pre-teen years in school – is a legitimate Instagram star. So even though he started using Instagram in 2017, lakhs of followers send him hearty messages regularly. “I used to admire so many people as a kid. Now people admire me. I never thought I would gain Instagram stardom. In fact, my followers request me to go live on Instagram on a daily basis. It becomes difficult for me to reply to all the messages sometimes.”
What is the craziest message he’s received on Instagram? “Sometimes women send ‘I love you’ messages to me. I don’t know how to respond to that,” he giggles.
Brain over brawn
While stardom hasn’t changed Monu much, it has made him watchful of his actions. He knows boys and girls back home look up to him. But the beauty of a player like Monu lies in his simplicity. He hustles only in the field. He still likes home-cooked meals, wears suits only to family weddings and plays volleyball and basketball in his free time. The visceral nature of kabaddi isn’t any different from his lifestyle.
“One of my teammates has tattooed Akshay Kumar’s name on his arm. We call him Akki. But I like Sanjay Dutt more!”
“You need brains to win, not just power. Kabaddi is a very fast-paced sport although it might not seem like that to the average viewer. You’ve to think in a few split seconds. If you aren’t fast enough, you can lose the game. So, I believe it’s more of a mind game than it is about power,” Monu says.
First but not last
Monu’s unflinching sincerity and go-getter attitude helped him perform brilliantly at the Federation Cup, Senior National Championship and Pro Kabaddi League. This is also why 2018 is a year of firsts for him. Other than shooting for his first magazine cover with Brunch, Monu played his first international tournament at Kabaddi Masters Dubai which meant he also made his first international trip.
“The stadium was absolutely full. And for a tournament that took place for the first time, everyone appreciated it a lot. We didn’t get a lot of time to see the city. There were matches every day. But we did go to see the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall and Dubai Gold Souk. I liked the country. It’s serene and quiet. Laws are quite strict, which is a great thing,” he shares about his experience.
Raider of the lost ark
We’re no longer the monotheistic cricket fanatics we used to be. India, a country that was once dismissive of any sport other than cricket, is now waiting to celebrate sports stars like Monu. To think of kabaddi overtaking cricket isn’t impossible. But Monu feels it will take time.
“Cricket is a really old sport. Kabaddi will take some time to rise to the same level of stardom. It’s just five seasons old and is only being highlighted now. But kabaddi will see its day too. The team owners also make the players realise how it’s no longer the sport it used to be. TRPs are increasing day by day. They advise us to concentrate on our fitness. Earlier people used to retire early. But now everyone encourages us to play for as many years as we can,” he says.
Without a doubt, the unlikely rise of Monu Goyat is one of the most radical changes that has taken place in the world of Indian sports. And, with some 21st century pizazz and a can-do attitude, it certainly won’t be the last.
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From HT Brunch, July 15, 2018
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First Published: Jul 14, 2018 22:15 IST