Abhishek Bachchan loves kabbaddi far more than in his capacity of a team owner. The documentary Sons Of The Soil: Jaipur Pink Panthers has brought Abhishek’s passion for the game to the forefront once again. His voice softens in mellow memories while recalling his association with his kabaddi team Jaipur Pink Panthers.
Recalls Abhishek, “I remember when Charu Sharma (the director of Kabbaddi Pro League) and Anand Mahindra (Pro Kabbaddi co-founder) offered me the chance to own a kabaddi team. My first question was, why me? I then watched a game on their behest and was amazed at the collective dedicated audience rooting for these boys who played like a dream.”
Abhishek was sold. “I was in, of course. I knew little about the game at that time. I remember at the auction I was literally just pointing at names in the auction brochure not knowing who the players were. I wondered if I had put together a good enough team. Over the next 6 years I came to know I couldn’t have chosen better. We started with eight teams. Now we have twelve teams.”
Abhishek still remembers his team’s first game. “It was on 26 June 2014 in Mumbai. My team played against Ronnie Screwvala’s team. I had invited all my closest friends from the film industry including my wife and parents. Also, the entire cast of Happy New Year, Farah Khan’s film which I was shooting for back then, had also shown up in support. The next day the papers carried photograph of Paa with Shah Rukh and Aamir. It did create a curiosity among people about kabbaddi, I’ve to admit. So yes, a known face helming a kabbaddi team does help initially. But finally it’s the team’s performance which brings the spectators in.”
Abhishek feels kabbaddi was never given its due. “It has always been a popular sport, widely watched and appreciated. But never acknowledged as a sport to be honoured. Me? I knew about kabbaddi from childhood, though I played football and basketball as a child. But I had seen my father playing kabbaddi in a film called Ganga Ki Saugandh. I was fascinated. Somehow that picture of Paa playing kabbaddi stayed. Later I lost touch with the game. Today I can proudly say I am completely into kabbaddi. I give all credit to my wonderful players who know they are very close to my heart. They can call anytime for anything.”
Abhishek has big dreams for his teams. “I want kabbaddi to go to the Olympics. So far it has been ineligible due to a technicality. But we’re working towards it. God willing it will happen. Kabbaddi will the only indigenous game from India to make it to the Olympics.”