Mukti Krishan's film The Mud Warriors shines a light on the bleaky future of 3000-year-old Indian sport Kusthi

BFI-backed film campaigns to save Indian mud wrestling 'Kusthi' from dying

Archana Venkatraman

A documentary film called 'The Mud Warriors' directed by Mukti Krishan, a budding Indian filmmaker, in partnership with BFI Future Film, Prime & Fire Selects, and Talenthouse makes a heartfelt appeal to save 'Kusthi', the traditional Indian mud wrestling sport from becoming extinct.

BFI and Prime & Fire Selects-backed film by Mukti Krishan aims to save Kushti sport.

In the 7-minute gripping film, a 24-year-old wrestler from Karad (village in Maharashtra state) Nilesh Madhale, explains what life is like for today’s Kushti wrestlers and how he and other athletes are fighting to survive in the dark demise of the once beloved sport.

“I took up Kushti because I love it, it’s all I ever dreamt of doing since I was 10” says Nilesh. Kushti is a 3,000-year-old traditional type of Indian mud wrestling originating from Persia.

Nilesh and his co-wrestlers work and train very hard but because of the lack of exercise equipment and the right kind of food, Nilesh is forced to come to Mumbai city to sustain his passion for Kusthi.

He moved to Mumbai 8 years ago and practices Kushti by day and works in a fish market loading fish in trucks at night time.

In the documentary, Nilesh is heard saying how, despite being a good wrestler, the future opportunities for Kusthi players in India are bleak. He explains how India, obsessed with cricket, is ignoring other traditional sport and as a result ancient sports such as Kusthi are fading away. He further explains that there are no national awards or government job securities for Kusthi players, unlike for cricketers.

Nilesh struggles financially as more than half of his earnings go towards his diet, with milk, almonds and protein. He, like many others, will have to give up the dream of being a wrestler.

Through the film, Mukti Krishan aims to raise awareness about the slow death of this 3000-year-old martial art, explore concepts of masculinity and male chastity associated with the sport and enumerate intimate stories of wrestlers’ struggles and passion for Kusthi.

According to the filmmaker and the producers, today, Kushti suffers from neglect, and a crippling lack of funds and support from the Indian government. As in so many things in India, the conflict between tradition and modernity can be seen in wrestling too. Everywhere in the country where the sport is practiced, the debate between those who want to take the international route via mat wrestling and those who stand by the culture of the mud pit is raged, according to the documentary film's team.

Akharas (sporting arenas) were once thriving within communities for men with muscles. Now they’re atrophying edifices of an institution that produced the heroes of Kushti.

Here's Mukti Krishan's documentary film 'The Mud Warriors' featuring Nilesh Madhale, the film is made in partnership with BFI: 


While Indian wrestlers are competitive athletes, they are also moral reformers whose conception of self and society is fundamentally somatic thereby providing a unique perspective on South Asian culture and society.

The film is funded by an annual film competition giving up-and-coming filmmakers the funds and support to create short human-interest documentaries within the realms of action sports - Prime & Fire Selects, in association with Factory Media. Prime & Fire selects exists to unearth new filmmaking talent - Focusing on short documentaries based around specialist sports. The judges looked for unique human-interest stories within the world of action & specialist sports.

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