May 28, 2024

Jayant Rohatgi’s feature directorial debut “Sumo Didi” has its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival‘s Asian Future strand.

The film is based on the life of Hetal Dave, India’s first professional female sumo wrestler. Rohatgi, a veteran of TV commercials, was on the lookout for a story with a strong human connection to make his feature film debut. When Joy Sengupta of FreshLime Films shared Dave’s story with Rohatgi, it lit a spark.

“A middle class girl from a conservative household, Hetal had seen it all – social prejudices, patriarchal mindsets, lack of opportunities and the disdain for dreaming outside the box especially as an overweight woman. These are things that we have seen around us growing up. However, Hetal went a step ahead and chose a sport that did not even exist in our country. The magnitude of her dream was unimaginable. Yet she found a way to make it a reality. Her sheer tenacity to break through all the obstacles with relentless focus and determination moved me immensely,” Rohatgi told Variety.

“I hope that through our film we are able to convey that every human being is unique and has unlimited potential waiting to explode. We just need to believe, find our own voice and keep moving forward to make even seemingly impossible dreams come true,” Rohatgi added.

To play the lead role of Dave, Rohatgi cast Shriyam Bhagnani (Disney+ Hotstar series “City of Dreams”). “The mere opportunity of playing a character inspired by real life and that too of a sportswoman who has represented India on the international stage felt like an absolute honor. The producers put the condition that I had to be ready for a substantial physical preparation and this posed my most significant challenge. I not only had to embody the character through acting but also needed to physically transform to match the visual definition of a sumo wrestler,” Bhagnani told Variety.

“Knowing that I had to face a professional sumo wrestler in the film, I took my training very seriously, starting essentially from scratch as a novice in the gym. My character had to be proficient in both judo and sumo, so mastering both martial arts became a crucial requirement. Under the expert guidance of a physical trainer, a yoga instructor, a sports physio and a dietician I underwent a significant physical transformation, gaining approximately 14 kilos to authentically portray the character. Also, Hetal Dave, the real-life inspiration for the film, trained me. In fact, all the athletes who portrayed other female sumo wrestlers in the film helped us elevate our performance by coming to India prior to the shoot to help prepare for the fight sequences,” Bhagnani added.

The film is produced by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Studios, FreshLime Films and Japanese advertising giant Hakuhodo’s MA&TH (Marching Ants & Trigger Happy).

On a film about sumo premiering in the land of the sport’s origin Rohatgi said, “I started from scratch to understand the sport and the euphoria around it. As I got more into it, I understood many finer details like, ‘sumo is about winning over yourself,’ within and outside the ring. It resonates with our protagonist’s story. It is a surreal feeling that even after the film’s completion, our connection with Japan has not ceased. What better way to celebrate this journey than being able to compete and showcase our film in Japan – the birthplace of sumo wrestling.”

“There are some nerves as I wait for the response of the Japanese audience on a film based on their national sport,” Rohatgi added.

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