Sports in India is broadly categorised as cricket and other sports. While the former has a huge fan base and has adequate provisions, the other bracket comprises of several other sports that are struggling to find a footing.
One such sport is archery, where the Indian contingent has performed well over the years but has failed to create superstars as cricket has. Former World No. 1, Deepika Kumari has a documentary that captures her journey and struggles, but only a few people know about it.
Titled, Ladies First, the Netflix original movie is directed with Uraaz Bahl. The movie traces Kumari’s formative years when she started her journey with archery.
“Born on the Roadside” in the village of Ratu, Jharkhand, the archer’s story portrays how she went on to defy culturally-ingrained sexism, abject poverty, and various professional obstacles.
The 24-year-old grew up in a ramshackle house that barely stood upright. The ‘house’ was shared with her aunt and uncle who weren’t very supportive. Being a daughter of a rickshaw driver and a nurse, Kumari understood at a very young age that her family’s financial status wasn’t stable.
At the age of 12, she left home to pursue a career that would hopefully allow her to help her family out of economic struggles. Even though she wasn’t attracted to archery initially, she wanted to move away so that she didn’t cause more burden on her family.
"We often didn't have enough food to go around," she says and pauses as she recalls her days of struggle. The move to enrol herself in an academy in Saraikela came because it was free of cost but what it demanded in return, was physical and mental devotion.
(Deepika Kumari is currently World No. 6 in women's recurve. Image: FB/Deepika Kumari)
She travelled 130 kilometres to attend the lessons and started proving her mettle as she got better day by day. A year later, she assured herself of a spot at the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur, where she was promised one meal a day and free housing.
As mentioned by the United Nations in 2012, India is the toughest place for girls to grow up and pursue their dreams among all other G20 countries. This very fact is clearly highlighted in Kumari’s tale.
"We grow up listening that girls belong at home, not on the sports field. Sports are meant only for boys. Girls should rather cook, look after their home and raise children… that’s their role,” she says, adding, “Why don't they say ‘ladies first’ in education and sports?"
It's a bold documentary that challenges the stereotypes and in-grained cultural mentality that believes Indian women are inferior in comparison to male counterparts. Kumari not only takes up the challenge to break the patriarchal notion, but she also passes the test with flying colours; becoming an inspiration for other girls to overcome social, cultural and physical obstacles.
The hunger for food led to a hunger for medals. In less than four years, Kumari was World No. 1 and had a podium finish in almost every competition that she entered. Despite adding many titles to her name, she has been deprived of an Olympic medal.
(The archer would want to silence her critics in Tokyo Olympics 2020. Image: FB/Deepika Kumari)
While her search goes on, the documentary highlights issues that have hampered athletes’ success time and again. Indian government’s failure to provide proper infrastructure and basic facilities for athletes, needs immediate attention.
Despite a distinct lack of resources, the expectations from our athletes to get medals at major events, especially the added pressure from the Indian media and bureaucrats has hampered careers.
After Kumari’s early exit in the Round of 64 in the Olympic Games 2012, the archer succumbs to the media trial as she tries to justify her performance. Kumari shares, “No athlete willingly wants to under-perform and not win medals for the country. The sacrifices an athlete makes to reach such a stage is unimaginable.”
This instance gives an insight into her psyche as she tries to state that it is unfair how the media and nation treat a sportsperson who fails to secure a medal at the Olympics. The episode also sheds light over the need for a mental coach as they can enhance an athlete’s performance.
Overall, Ladies First is a must watch documentary that portrays a journey of a young girl who is determined to bring change in the society. How she transforms a lot of opinions and goes on to prove her point, is something worthwhile. Her grit and determination demonstrate why we cannot expect to be a great nation if we continue to marginalise half of our population.
(Featured Image: Facebook/Deepika Kumari)
About the Author
I am a passionate 20-year-old cricket fan who aspires to be a sports anchor. Like to Invest some free time in painting, reading and writing. I am staunch a believer in hard work. I am currently learning the art to play with words.