Pehlwan: The Migrant Warrior

Copy of Pehlwan10

Our latest story at Virtual Bharat is one from our own city—Mumbai. The city of dreams. The city of warriors. The city of migrants. This story is dedicated to the unbreakable spirit of the migrants who make Mumbai the city that it is today. The bustling financial capital, made up of 22 million, that runs on the strength of its migrant warriors. 

Milind Kuber Patil, Nilesh Baban Madale, Shailesh Rangrao Maske, Raju Baban Jadhav, Omkar Kisan Pawar, and Amit Shrirang Ghadage are a few among the migrants who come to Mumbai to make a living, a future, and a name. They have left their families and come a long way from home to fulfill their dreams. And they choose a path of their own making. What sets these migrants apart is that they not only take on the dream and struggles of Mumbai but dedicate themselves to training in the ancient Indian art form – Pehlwani. An intensive sport involving over 8 hours of practice a day, and an intensive daily regime. Their training begins at a young age, presenting hard work and determination as fuel for both the mind and the body. They worship the soil they train on, tending to it every day, nourishing it with honey and minerals before stepping onto it to train.

These pehlwans moved to the Mahatma Phule Vyayam Mandir, an akhada (training centre) located in Chinchpokli, Mumbai, in their teens, with a dream to become the greatest pehlwans of India. They work in the city as coolies, laborers, security guards, and various other daily wage jobs to earn their living. What keeps them going, is their love for their art, and their determination to keep growing.

“Everybody has a desire, and I do too. I want to keep moving forward in life. I am never satisfied with my body, because then I would settle for this,” says Milind. 

Pehlwani or Kushti is an ancient Indian art of combat, thought to have been around in its early form (Malla-Yuddha) since the 5th millennium BCE. The art of Kushti has been evolving for centuries. It came to take its modern shape in the Mughal and colonial eras. Despite this, the core values of Kushti have continued to remain its true fuel. The men who are trained as pehlwans take an oath – stop a blow, never strike. They use their strength and prowess to defend the weaker sections of society.

The pehlwan plays the role of the protector. The training of Pehlwani echoes the wisdom of ancient traditions that aimed to create an aspirational figure for society. A role model for the traditional Indian male. The pehlwan. The pehlawan (the first guardian). As we shoot with the pehlwans, we see not only their incredible training and willpower, but their kindness, diligence, and sheer inner strength, honed by their practice. The film shows the journey of the pehlwan in the city built on the dreams of migrants. With the lyrics of Dopeadelicz ringing in your ears, “Fight like a warrior, win like a champion,” this film is about Mumbai’s own migrant warriors. Watch the film now. 


Virtual Bharat is a 1000 film journey of untold stories of India spanning people, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, traditions, architecture, and more in a repository of culture. The vision of director Bharatbala, creator of Maa Tujhe Salaam, we are a tale of India told person-by-person, story-by-story, and experience-by-experience. The films are under 10 minutes in length and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel

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