Tag Archives: #virtualbharat

Pehlwan: The Migrant Warrior

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

They Call Me “Manu Master”

Virtual Bharat’s most recent film is set in Koolimuttam, Kerala. A story of a man, a rebel, a master, known to his disciples and thus to the world, by one name; “Manu Master,” he says with pride as he looks at the nature around him. His eyes are kind and filled with strength and wisdom. His red shawl flutters in the wind. 

Manu Master was born in Koolimuttam, in the 1960s, as Abdul Manaf. Little Abdul loved the arts. He accompanied his uncle to Kathakali recitals, performances and katcheris alike. He jumped across the compound wall at school every day to simply watch and admire the dance lessons that were being taken by a teacher right next door. Spotting his interest in the arts, his uncle enrolled him to learn bharatanatyam when he was only 12 years of age, and that marked the beginning of Abdul Manaf’s journey in Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam was considered a temple art form. The postures and grace of the dance are a reflection of those of several Hindu gods and goddesses. Abdul Manaf was not a part of this culture, and was thus regarded an outsider. He trained in several other dance forms – Mohiniyattam, Kathakali…but his heart always lay with Bharatanatyam. At the age of 20, he decided to move to Tamil Nadu to train and master the traditional style of Bharatanatyam – one that had been banned by the British, in their move to stamp out Indian culture. Today, he is one of the leading exponents of this style of dance. 

Abdul believes that “the true God, is love, and art is the medium to reach love. “Mohabbat,” he says, is what his dance is an expression of. He refused to allow aspects like his name to get in the way of his love for dance. Abdul Manaf took the name ‘Manu’, a nickname given to him by his mother, and started to practice under this name. He admired the Tantric school of the dance and says it was his Guru Chitra Visweswaran who changed his life. She showed him how the body, was but a small replica of the entire universe, and thus how through certain postures one could unveil the Maha Mantras (sacred truths of the world). 

His movements echo the simplicity, grace, and freedom of postures of love and desire – characteristic of the Tantric school of Bharatanatyam. His audience is spellbound when he moves. The very air around him changes. There is a silence and magic to his performance and even the simplest of mudras can bring tears to the spectator’s eyes. Manu today, dedicates his life to not only keeping this Tantric tradition of Bharatanatyam alive, but to his disciples as well. He looks at them with a smile, and says “my teachers have always shown me the right path, but I want them to be able to choose their own paths.” 

As the team of Virtual Bharat shot with Manu Master, they were spellbound by not only his movements but the way these movements echoed the beauty of the nature around him. Watch the film capture his story through his dance below!

 

Virtual Bharat in collaboration with India Currents will release a monthly series highlighting the stories Virtual Bharat is capturing in India. Stay tuned for more!

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

123…The Happiest Man!

The oldest man in the world? The happiest man alive? A yoga genius? Who is Swami Sivananda?

Virtual Bharat’s latest in a 1000 film journey of the untold stories of India, takes us to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, this International Yoga Day. The film tells the story of Swami Sivananda, an old man, who when asked his age, grins at the camera stating with pride…“I am? 123!” Born on August 8, 1896, Swami Sivananda is today, 124 years old, making him the oldest living man on the planet! The Guinness Book of World Records has yet to certify him the longest living man. 

Like many Indians, even decades younger, Swami Sivananda has no official verification of his birth, save for a temple register that has his birth listed under this date. India’s passport authorities have used this as a confirmation of his age. He jabs at both his passport and aadhaar card when the team asks him if he has anything to actually prove his age. He adds, with confidence, “if you want proof, you can bring a doctor!” 

With ageless grace and a sharp sense of humor, he takes the team through his daily routine. Two solid hours of yoga, two simple meals a day comprising of dal, roti, and sabzi (vegetables) and the rest of his time reading the Gita. To him, it is this discipline and simplicity that has allowed him to live up to this ripe age. “Yoga brings mental peace and happiness”, he says as he also states that he has no desire, disease, or depression—the 3 Ds that he has no time or space in his life for. 

Yoga for him is the key to a happy life. Swami Sivananda lost his parents by the age of 6 and was then taken under the wing of a spiritual guide who took him around the world. His eyes gleam as he rattles off the long list of countries he has been to…Luxembourg, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Netherlands…almost 50 in total! That was his introduction to yoga. To this day, he practices yoga, and the film depicts his stunningly supple body at this inspiring age. 

He laughs as we ask him what the key to a long life is, and says, “This is the kalyug; everyone is greedy. It is impossible to live for 123 years!” It is with this cheer that Swami Sivananda goes about his day, claiming he has no time for anything apart from this: “I am, not only the oldest but also the happiest living man in the world!” A man who has lived through almost two pandemics now, smiles bright as he tells the world that happiness and simplicity are what keep him going. A story of joy, simplicity, and humor, this film shows us there is always light at the end of the tunnel. 

Virtual Bharat in collaboration with India Currents will release a monthly series highlighting the stories Virtual Bharat is capturing in India. Stay tuned for more!

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

Ajjibaichi Shaala: Let’s Go to Grandmother’s School!

“With a roar, rise, and fight for your right to education.

Breaking the chains of tradition, go get an education.”

– Savitribai Phule

India’s first school for girls was started in Pune, Maharashtra, by Savitribai Phule – a woman who spearheaded the movement for female education in India.  Almost two centuries later, the flame continues to burn bright in Maharashtra, as a new institution, the first of its kind, is set up. A school that Kantabai More, at the age of 74, can proudly say she attends twice a week. Where she gets scolded for not finishing her homework by her teacher, Sheetal More, who also happens to be her daughter-in-law. A school where all her peers are of her age. A school for the ajjis (grandmothers) of Fangane, a village in Maharashtra.

On March 8th, 2016, International Women’s Day, the Ajjibaichi Shaala (Grandmothers’ School), was set up in Fangane at the demand of the ajjis. “

The idea for Ajjibaichi Shaala came to me in Feb 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti,” says the founder Yogendra Bangar. “The ladies in the village were reading out of a ‘paath’ (a holy passage), and I heard the senior women say that they wished they, too, could read the text. That’s where the idea of a school for them came from, and the whole village rallied behind it.”

After having spent their entire lives dedicated to family by tending to the fields, the harvest, and the business, the ajjis have, at long last, decided to turn to their own lifelong desire—to go to school and get an education. 

The crew of Virtual Bharat, a 1000 film journey of India initiated by filmmaker Bharatbala, attempts to capture the ajjis in action, as they don their bright pink saree-uniforms and head to school together to learn their rhymes, math, alphabet, and art—and like any other students, complain about homework and tests. In a four-day shoot in Fangane, living amidst the grandmothers, the team saw that telling the story of the Ajjibaichi Shaala was more than filming the classroom and the uniforms. It had to be about capturing its incredible spirit.

As Sitabai Deshmukh, an 85-year-old ajji—the oldest in her class—tells the crew, school, for her, is about more than just the letters that they teach (which she forgets before the next class anyway); she cannot even really see the blackboard or comprehend much of what is taught to her. For her, school is about living a life she never thought she would have access to. A life she has ensured that her children and grandchildren experience. A life that she too can now proudly say she has lived. The Ajjibaichi Shaala is a Maharashtrian grandmother’s dream and now serves as source of pride.

Watch the short film on the link below!

Virtual Bharat in collaboration with India Currents will release a monthly series highlighting the stories Virtual Bharat is capturing in India. Stay tuned for more!

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