‘If you are brave, you become unstoppable’

‘I remember that when I was about seven years old, a doctor saw me and told my family that I would only survive for six months and that the disease had no cure.’
‘But my mother never gave up.’
‘She would always say, “My son is born to become a renowned wrestler”.’

Photograph: Kind courtesy Sangram Singh/Instagram

Multiple award-winning wrestler Sangram Singh is all set to star in the film, Udaan Zindagi Ki.

The wrestler says that he enjoys his work in show business now, but there was a time when people in the industry would make fun of him.

“Whatever I am today is because of the hurdles that I faced. The only thing that matters is that how big are your dreams. If people are not laughing at your dreams, it means that your dreams are small,” Sangram Singh tells Rediff.com Contributor Mohnish Singh.

What is Udaan Zindagi Ki about?

It tells the story of a 22-year-old boy who wants to become a rapper.

He convinces his father to help him, but his father expires.

I felt I should do such a film. Whether it is successful or not is not in my hands.

I felt right about it, and shot it in my hometown.

This film is for all types of audiences and I feel that whoever watches it may get inspired.

That’s why I took up this film.

I feel that when you do a film, it should have a message.

I am the brand ambassador for a sports institute and also the Swachh Bharat Mission. It brings me happiness.

There was a time when I was offered less work, so I starting taking lectures at IIT and IIM.

I make sure that I don’t take up work which is portrayed in a bad light.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Sangram Singh/Instagram

Why did you choose to back this project?

Haryana’s Chief Minister (Manohar Lal) Khattarsaab is my friend and mentor.

One day I met him and he said, ‘Sangram, you should do something for our state’s youth.’

Months later, I came across the script of Udaan Zindagi Ki.

The film has the feel of Dangal and Sultan and surprisingly, the character of my father in the film is played by the same actor (Naveen), who played Salman’s father in Sultan.

You are a sportsperson. How difficult was it for you to get acquainted with show business?

When I came to Mumbai, I was completely unaware of what was right and wrong.

I was receiving a lot of love from the entertainment industry and the media.

For a period of time, I did not even know what my work was.

I had a couple of shows and films. I would do what the makers wanted me to do on a set, like close-up shots, wide shots, etc.

IMAGE: Sangram Singh with his wife, Payal Rohatgi. Photograph: Kind courtesy Sangram Singh/Instagram

What happened next?

It was during the preparation for a film based on Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav that I learnt what quality work actually means.

Shyam Benegal was set to direct that film.

I invested almost three years of my life for that project.

I was set to play the lead role of Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, who won the first (individual) medal for India at the 1952 Summer Olympics.

But the film did not see light of the day.

I was also supposed to do a film with Mahesh Bhatt. Unfortunately, the project was shelved because of some issues among producers.

Later, many superstars offered me work; I used to end up at their locations.

There were a few films, which I felt that may be if I had said yes to them, I would have ended up getting more work in the industry.

I also refrained from doing ads for tobacco companies and things that are harmful to health.

At what point in your career did you feel that you have to try your hand at acting?

To be honest, the real motivation in my life has always been tons of rejections I have faced.

I was the kid who could not stand properly nor even speak properly.

I come from a humble background. I could not buy myself a pair of shoes or pay my bus fare.

My stars finally aligned, and I got the opportunity to become a wrestler.

I started wrestling from a small level. When I got the opportunity to play for my country, I was thrilled.

There was a time when everyone would tease me, taunt me for who I was and where I came from. But I went on to become the best wrestler in the world.

IMAGE: Sangram Singh with VJ Andy in Bigg Boss 7.

Your participation in Bigg Boss 7 grabbed a lot of eyeballs. What made you say yes to it?

One day, some people from Endemol visited me.

They told me about a show they wanted to make. It was about wrestling and they wanted me to host it.

I thought they must be lying to me.

When they convinced me, I thought why not give it a try.

I used to earn Rs 8,000 at that time and had taken a loan from a bank. I thought if I agreed to do the show, it would help me financially.

I took permission from the sports team, and went on to do a lot of shows, including Bigg Boss. I have even hosted several shows.

Did anyone make fun of your accent?

Whenever I used to go to such places, people used to say that he is a Haryanvi and has a peculiar voice.

Some people would make fun of me.

Whatever I am today is because of the hurdles I have faced.

The only thing that matters is how big your dreams are. If people are not laughing at your dreams, it means your dreams are small.

No matter how successful you are, or how intelligent you are, if you are ready to learn new things, nothing will stop you.

So steadily, I got the chance to learn.

I was the kind of student who would feel that getting 33 percent was a big deal. Now, I am travelling worldwide, giving speeches.

I meet IPS and IAS officers.

So if you think positively and if you are brave, you become unstoppable.

IMAGE: Sangram Singh with his mother and wife. Photograph: Kind courtesy Sangram Singh/Instagram

You were confined to a wheelchair for the first eight years of your life, battling rheumatoid arthritis. What were those years like? How did you develop the will to come out of that dark phase?

I come from Madina in Rohtak. We did not have games like tennis and badminton there.

Once I saw people wrestling in our village.

My elder brother also used to wrestle. That’s when I thought I wanted to be a wrestler.

But the disease, rheumatoid arthritis, that I was suffering from, was deadly because you are not in a position to do anything.

It started from the legs, and is extremely painful.

Doctors used to say this disease was incurable.

I remember that when I was about seven years old, a doctor saw me and told my family that I would only survive for six months and that the disease had no cure.

But my mother never gave up.

She would always say, ‘My son is born to become a renowned wrestler.’

I reached the wrestling ground and that was an achievement in itself.

I told the wrestlers that I wanted to become a wrestler. They taunted me, saying, I needed to stand properly first.

Hurt, I asked them, ‘Who is a wrestler?’

They said, ‘A wrestler is someone who represents his country.’

That sentence never left my mind.

Some relatives, friends, and my mother never left my side.

My mother would massage my body 12-13 times a day. She used to massage me using different kinds of oils and desi ghee. Her will power brought me strength.

She was not trying to help a physically disabled person; she was preparing her son to become stronger and face the world.

When I was on my way to recovery, I used to sit and observe the game of wrestling closely.

The biggest tragedy is not that the world doesn’t recognise who we are, but that we don’t know our own potential.

I understand myself now, and feel that everyone and every player is different.

Everybody’s journey is different.