BOOK REVIEW: Deedara aka Dara Singh!

A new book on India’s original wrestling-and-film success story tries to piece together what turned Deedar Singh Randhawa into Dara Singh  

Author Seema Sonik Alimchand’s Deedara aka Dara Singh! is something of a halfway house between an official biography and a compilation of the little details that made up the world champion wrestler’s life. Although the transition between the book’s flashbacks and flashforwards is a little awkward (though one could blame that on the unedited review copy) the book reads like an honest account of not just the wrestler’s life but the milieu he grew up in – from the farmlands of rural Punjab to life as a southeast Asian immigrant.

deedara dara singh

To those whose only point of reference to the man is of him as a benevolent dictator in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met, ‘Deedara…’ will serve as a reminder of his prolific wrestling career – with each bout, each challenge recorded with due diligence.

Written much like a slightly melodramatic screenplay (a biopic in the works?), the book nonetheless stops short of being a breathless hagiography, giving readers a good sense of Dara Singh, the man.

Written much like a slightly melodramatic screenplay (a biopic in the works?), the book nonetheless stops short of being a breathless hagiography, giving readers a good sense of Dara Singh, the man.

The book opens on a high note with an account of Singh’s bout with wrestler Pat Roche in Guwahati (a city whose wrestling infrastructure the former is shown to have selflessly contributed to), which, although it ends in success for Singh, is marred by Roche being stabbed in the back by an overzealous fan. Several such instances of fan frenzy worldwide are peppered all over the book – sometimes accompanied by accounts of generous gurus, accidental benefactors, serendipitous encounters and that favourite ingredient of all underdog movies, redemption.

While the writing is pedestrian at best, with a series of baffling addendums (‘kaddha prasad’ is wheat-based sweet, Prem Chopra ‘famous actor’) inserted to perhaps target a global audience, the book does gain from insights into the complex sociocultural norms Singh was forced to pay heed to.

To describe his backstory, the author taps into both caste origin myths as well as interviews with Singh’s immediate family. Alimchand describes how Singh, who was forced to drop out of school to work on his land, benefited professionally from his move abroad to escape a troubled and unwelcome child marriage.

Alimchand describes how Singh, who was forced to drop out of school to work on his land, benefited professionally from his move abroad to escape a troubled and unwelcome child marriage.

What adds colour to the 220-odd page tome by Westland are the little details – the fact that the world’s wrestling champion often wet his bed until his teens, how he overcame personal hang-ups (violating the Sikh diktat forbidding haircuts, raising funds through a thwarted – and final – robbery attempt) in pursuit of wrestling, his childish awe of both Nihangs and Lord Hanuman, despite being described as pretty much irreligious by all of his children.

Thankfully, the biggest chunk of this book focuses purely on his wrestling career and early life and has little to nothing to do with Bollywood – that comes later, when he starts nearing his expiry date, so to speak.

The author has studiously tracked Singh’s filmography to the last detail, recording his regional and obscure releases as well. Thankfully, celebrity sightings are limited to the centrespread – the odd picture with Nehru and Muhammad Ali, him twirling Raj Kapoor clean above his head.

 

dara-singh-lifitng-the-legendary-actor-director-raj-kapoor-in-his-famous-aeroplane-spin
Dara Singh lifting Raj Kapoor in his famous aeroplane spin

Although the reader senses that Singh matured and mellowed with age and exposure, it is still a bit disconcerting to read about his treatment of his spouse (‘No wife of mine is going to work’). Thankfully, the bluster is balanced out by several tales of tenderness.

To those whose only point of reference to the man is of him as a benevolent dictator in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met, ‘Deedara…’ will serve as a reminder of his prolific wrestling career.

Although the book could have done with some tighter editing in terms of the Bollywood anecdotes retained, it manages to strike the right balance between biographic detail and film industry hearsay. From his ill-fated political career to his insistence on doing his stunts himself, from his dumb luck when it came to a mythological release during the Emergency to the two war-time births in his family, there is enough here to keep you hooked all the way through. And although the final product might feel unfinished and abruptly ended, if you need a quick primer on wrestling while you listen to ‘Dhaakad’ from upcoming release Dangal, give ‘Deedara…’ a shot.

 

Photos courtesy the personal album of Virender Singh Randhawa (aka Vindu).

Recent Posts

RECENT COMMENTS

Mahithi Pillay Written by:

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *