Navroze Contractor: The dying culture of ‘kushti’ in akhadas

Navroze Contractor now records the tradition of kushti and akhadas.

imageNavroze Contractor wishes there are more than 24 hours in a day . The veteran cinematographer, known for his work in national award-winning films like Mani Kaul’s Duvidha, Nachiket Patwardhan’s Limited Manuski and documentaries like Martha Stewart’s Are You Listening?, Pierre Hoffmann’s Dreams Of The Dragon’s Children and Deepa Dhanraj’s What Has Happened To This City? -finds time for his work in between his other two passions: teaching and writing.

Article by Divya Shekhar | Economic Bureau

His last photo exhibition on jazz musicians was way back in 2008. He has surfaced again, this time with chronicles on the dying culture of kushti in akhadas.

“I have captured the conditions, light, equipment and training involved in wrestling, which is caught in a time warp,” Contractor, 72, said, explaining that his images portray the dissolution of caste, class and religion among boys in akhadas.”Every boy does pranam (salutation) to Hanuman before starting the day . No one wears a tilak or any accessory that gives away their caste or religious identity .”

The mud pit, small windows, dark atmosphere and minimal lighting of an akhada in Dharwad drew Contractor. “I am interested in sport of all kinds and in things that are not going to be as they were. So traditional kushti was never out of my radar,” said the FTII alumnus.

The 20-odd black-and-white images on display belong to wrestling haunts in Dharwad, Ahmedabad (Contractor’s birthplace) and Mysuru. “I heard that there were a hundred akhadas in Mysuru alone and now not even a handful of them exist!” On the future of the sport itself, he observed that wrestlers no longer want to fight in mud pits in loin cloths. “Interestingly, the rules haven’t changed (much) for centuries, though the equipment has,” he pointed out.

Naozar Daruwalla, founder, Crimson Art Gallery , where the images will be on display from September 26, believes “The photographs are historic. They take you back to a certain era and preserve the story of a dying tradition for the future generation.”