The 12-minute-long documentary Matitali Kusti has won the National Film Award in the Best Exploration/Adventure Film category – a boost for its young director and a timely reminder of the dying sport of traditional mud wrestling.

Directed by Prantik Vivek Deshmukh, the black-and-white film visits a traditional wrestling centre in Pune. The film is shot from the point of view of former wrestler and coach Bhagwan Tambekar. He reveals that in spite of winning prestigious wrestling titles and an honorarium for a year, a wrestler’s financial future remains precarious. One of the reasons the sport is under threat is the popularity of freestyle mat wrestling.

Matitali Kusti is a part of Deshmukh’s Fourth Semester Individual Project Film at the Department of Media & Communication Studies at the Savitribai Phule Pune University in Pune. The director researched the subject for two months, visiting training centres, speaking to wrestlers and coaches and reading books and articles on the history of the sport.

“My hometown Yavatmal is known for its agrarian crisis and farmer suicides,” 24-year-old Deshmukh told “The farmers of my region are struggling hard and are in desperate need of attention. While searching for a subject, I came across these pehelwans in the middle of Pune. I saw them struggling exactly like the farmers of my region. I connected to this subject instantly.”

The slow decline of the sport is evoked through black-and-white cinematography, the use of slow motion, and the use of trombone as the leading instrument in the background score. “I enjoy telling stories to people around me,” Deshmukh said. “I want to keep trying my hand at various aspects of storytelling and wish to experiment more with the medium.”

Matitali Kusti.