On her state visit, South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook met the Phogats, whose story inspired Aamir Khan’s blockbuster Dangal. She spoke of her interest in inviting them to her country, so that they can teach wrestling moves and spread the message of equality.
The story of a family from a conservative Indian state that broke every stereotype and won on the world stage inspired Aamir Khan’s 2016 blockbuster Dangal. It’s a film that has resonated not just across India, but across Asia, and one of its admirers is the First Lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, who has met the family, the Phogats, on her state visit to India (July 8-11), with the South Korean premier Moon Jae-in. What’s more, she has expressed an interest in inviting the family of wrestlers to her own country to teach the moves to South Koreans.
On July 10, in an intimate set-up for high tea in Delhi, the title track of Dangal played in the backdrop as Kim Jung-sook entered the room and instantly recognised Geeta Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal. “Geeta, you are Geeta…” the First Lady said in an elated tone, and the Olympian stepped forward to greet her.
A self-confessed fan of the film Dangal, Kim Jung-sook met the Phogat family members father Mahavir Singh Phogat, wife Daya Kaur, daughters Geeta and Babita Phogat over high tea, and congratulated them on overcoming so many difficulties and attaining the stature of international athletes. The family gifted the First Lady a sky blue sari and a golden mace, the weapon of Lord Hanuman, the deity of the Indian wrestling community.
With the help of an interpreter, Kim Jung-sook spoke of her appreciation for Daya Kaur the film shows her as a source of quiet strength (as played by actor Sakshi Tanwar) and asked, “Did the girls feel embarrassed about training and running around the fields like boys in a village?” Mahavir replied, “There were a lot of obstacles that the girls had to overcome in their youth, to lead the disciplined life that has made them the international sports personalities they are today.”
Kim Jung-sook told Mahavir that she became “emotional” while watching Dangal and was awestruck by the kind of discipline he instilled in his daughters so that they could become gold medal-winning wrestlers after Geeta, sister Babita also won a wrestling gold at the Commonwealth Games.
Mahavir tells us, “The First Lady mentioned that she was so inspired by the film and our lives that she’d go back to South Korea and try and invite our entire family there, so that we can teach wrestling to South Koreans, and also create awareness that there shouldn’t be discrimination among boys and girls.”
The experience was overwhelming for Babita, who says, “Though she wasn’t able to understand our language directly, she was so responsive to whatever we were trying to explain to her. After all, the impact of a real story is always real.” About the gifts, she adds, “Gada ek pehelwan ki shakti ka prateek hai (The mace is the symbol of a wrestler’s power), that’s why our papa decided to gift one to her.”