‘Dangals of Crime’, which literally means arenas of crime, is a docuseries mashup of sport-meets-true crime.
Telling us how trained wrestlers in the country are drawn to a life of crime, this two-episode, non-fiction series is not a hard-hitting eye-opener, but a voice among the hushed whispers.
The series chronicles how wrestling arenas across the northern states are breeding grounds for anti-social elements because, as one of the talking heads mentions, “There is a thin line between the criminal world and the wrestling world. They have co-existed, always in a state of balance.”
The first episode takes off with a badly patched-up montage of news clips informing us about the involvement of wrestlers in crime. Then, channelising its narrative with footage from archival news and event clippings, interviews with wrestlers, coaches, journalists, authors, and former police commissioners, it tells us how the trained wrestlers who dream and strive to achieve great heights in their sport, find themselves ultimately landing up on the other side of the law. It also mentions how the world perceives these sportsmen as merely “a bunch of goons”.
The plot of the documentary is flat and paper-thin. Interspersed with clips of wrestling bouts and practice sessions, the narrative meanders from dropping names of most of the wrestlers involved in anti-social activities, to the making of wrestlers, to the history of Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi, to the May 2021 murder that involved the two-time Olympic medal-winning wrestler Sushil Kumar.
It is interesting to look into the lives of the young wrestlers, especially how they live in their akhadas (training schools), but the series does not delve into the thoughts and the mindsets of these young trainee wrestlers to answer why they still prefer wrestling, given the way the world around them perceives the sport.
Despite the filming of its talking heads being conducted in appropriate settings and in a conversational manner, the look and feel of the series is that of a lazy, hastily mounted news bulletin.
Also, the information given out is often repetitive and with an authoritative point of view, making the tone accusatory rather than balanced. And, because the editing is neither taut nor crisp, the series is neither intriguing, nor engaging.
Overall, the series unravels the untold truth about Indian wrestling that it promises, albeit perfunctorily.
WebSeries: Dangals of Crime
Director: Niyantha Shekar
Cast: Rudraneil Sengupta, Jonathan Selvaraj, Ramphal Mann, Maha Singh Rao, Ajit Singh, Neeraj Thakur and Ashok Chand
Streaming on: discovery+
Duration: Average 28 minutes per episode
–By Troy Ribeiro