Article by Aasheesh Sharma, courtesy Hindustan Times
and Ashok Kumar fan, who relished his kulhad of
rabdi. A hockey magician who conjured up scoring opportunities at will.
A patriot who turned down an offer the Fuhrer thought he couldn't
Major Dhyan Chand was all these and then some. Now the exciting
life and times of the champion is the subject of a biopic, to be produced
by Walkwater Media's Pooja Shetty, and directed by advertisement filmmaker Rohit
Vaid, who makes his Bollywood debut with this film.
Hockey historian K Arumugam, who runs the NGO One Thousand Hockey
Legs, says Dhyan Chand is a synonym for sporting excellence. "If a
single athlete gave the country credibility as a sporting nation, it was
none other than this soldier in the British Indian army. Just like Bradman is cricket's first
global superstar, Dhyan Chand was hockey's first global superstar. Scoring a hat-trick of goals against Germany in the
final of the Olympics organised by Adolf Hitler has no parallel," says Arumugam.
Simply mull over some hard
facts about the hockey wizard. Dhyan Chand won an Olympic gold medal for
India in three successive Olympics at Amsterdam (1928), Los Angeles
(1932) and Berlin (1936). Over an illustrious 22-year career (1926 to
1948), he scored more than 400 international goals.
Beyond statistics, Dhyan Chand's impact on India's hockey fortunes can be
gauged by the astonishing statistic that India never, ever lost any
international match that he played in.
At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Adolf Hitler wanted to reinforce the
myth about 'Aryan' racial superiority and physical prowess. When British
India sent its team to defend the titles it had won in the last two
editions of the Olympics, they had to surmount a number of odds. To begin
with, for the travel to Germany by ship, the team had to raise money on
Says his son, two-time Olympian Ashok Kumar, "The team needed more than 50,000, Babuji told us.
Considering the enormity of the amount, a nationwide
campaign was launched and leading industrialists and the royalty were
approached to pitch in with money that would sponsor the team's voyage
to Berlin. Finally, funds to the tune of 52,000 were
raised. We have the balance sheet at home even today."
India met Germany in the Olympic hockey final. With the Fuhrer in attendance, the Germans were really charged up. At
half time, India was hanging on to a slender one-goal lead which could
have been reversed in a matter of seconds. "The Germans played a really
physical match and my father, who was marked tightly, lost one tooth in
a rough tackle. Then my uncle Roop Singh and he decided to remove their
shoes and play barefoot. In those days, no substitutions were allowed
and if a player was injured the team had to play on regardless,"
After half-time, the team played as if their lives depended upon the
outcome of the match. India hammered in seven goals with Dhyan Chand
scoring a hat-trick. A stunned Hitler, mesmerised by Dhyan Chand's stick
sorcery, sat in silence. After the final, the close to 50,000-strong
crowd of German fans, including their Chancellor, left the stadium in a
hush, with military-like precision.
Subsequently, Hitler offered a colonel's rank to Dhyan Chand provided
he took German citizenship, says Ashok. "But my father declined saying
that he was first and foremost an Indian and then a soldier or a player," added Ashok.
In Vienna, a statue of his father with four hands
and four sticks was installed to signify that it was impossible for a hockey player to
control the ball so well with just two hands. As a child, recalls Ashok,
hundreds of strangers kept pouring into their home to meet Babuji.
After hours, Dhyan Chand was fond of watching Hindi films, says
Ashok. "He liked movie stars Ashok Kumar and Madhubala. But he had a
special place in his heart for singing star Suraiya, whose life-size
portrait was hung in our Meerut home for years," recalls Ashok.
The hockey magician had his
own ways of displaying affection, says Ashok. "When he came home for his
annual leave in Jhansi, he would go out in the evening with his friends
and on the way back, get us rabdi in a large mitti ka bartan. Since many
of us had fallen asleep by then, he used to wake each of us up and feed
us rabdi with a spoon with his own hands," recalls a misty-eyed Ashok.
Decades after Dhyan Chand's death, says Ashok, his fame
hadn't diminished. Every corner of the globe he toured, Dhyan Chand left
an impression and won fans over. Ashok cites an example from a tour to
New Zealand in 1975, when he was part of the Indian team. "We were
having snacks in a restaurant in Auckland. The owner approached us and
asked us whether the side was from India. On confirmation she remarked
that she remembered the goals scored by Dhyan Chand in 1935! The lady, who
was a child back in 1935, had
watched all the matches on that tour. When my coach told her that I was
her son, she gave me a big hug."
Apart from admiration, the quality of his game also drew astonishment
and awe. On a trip to Holland the authorities broke his
hockey stick to check whether there was a magnet inside. On another
occasion, a lady gave him her walking stick and asked him to play with
that. Dhyan Chand managed to score a goal with that too!
Says Aarti Shetty, Walkwater Media's creative director, on their
Dhyan Chand biopic: "Indian hockey's greatest legend will soon be seen on celluloid. Films based on real life heroes, which have
inspirational content, generate a lot of interest among the audience.
Dhyan Chand had an amazing life, and we have a team of
people researching every aspect. Writer Ila Bedi Dutta (of Agneepath
fame) is writing the story, while ad filmmaker Rohit Vaid, who has been
closely following the life of Major Dhyan Chand, will direct it. We
proceeded with the project after getting clearances from Dhyan Chand's
Ashok says his father's indomitable spirit and simplicity are his
most valuable legacy. "He was a superstar who rode a bicycle to work
even after winning Olympic gold medals. Even if the opposition targeted
him (Babuji's nose was broken many times), he never cribbed about it. When others were sleeping in the barracks or playing cards, he
used to practise alone. In my time, I followed these life lessons and
they always helped me bounce back from tough times," signs off Ashok.