Credit: Nick Leonard – Creative Commons License 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Kabaddi is a contact team sport that few people outside of Asia care about or even know. The popular belief is that it originated in Ancient Tamizhagam, from the game called Sadugudu. However, the modern version gets thought to be a synthesis of the various iterations of this game in countries around the Indian subcontinent, with Hindi-speaking regions giving rise to this competitive sport, whose first organized tournaments began taking place in the 1920s. It got introduced into the program during the 1938 Indian Olympic Games, and the All-India Kabaddi Federation got founded twelve years later.

These days, Kabaddi highlights are a common sight on Indian news and YouTube sports channels. That is so because this sport only trails behind cricket, establishment-wise, in all of India. As a whole, it is the second-most watched sporting event in the world’s second-most populous country. Matches from the Pro Kabaddi League, also known as Vivo Prop Kabbadi, broadcast on Star Sports, have glued as many as five hundred and fifty million eyeballs to screens.

That said, when it comes to Kabaddi’s representation on the silver screen, it is surprisingly not as robust as people would expect. In fact, it pales when compared to the portrayal cricket enjoys in fictional feature stories. Still, multiple famous kabaddi movies exist, and below, we rank what we believe are the five best ones. These are sport-themed gems that fans of the game should not miss. And most general audiences should also appreciate them, as they are high-quality light romps that cater to all demographics.

5. Chhalaang

Chhalaanga is a dark comedy that came out in 2020. Principal photography on this project got underway near the tail-end of 2018, with filming wrapping in August of 2019. The film premiered on Diwali on the Amazon Prime platform to stunning success. It represented a rare instance of an Indian movie that did not play in theaters to hit the mainstream consciousness and enter the public discourse.

Chhalaang tells the inspirational story of the lazy Montu, a physical training instructor with no degree, working in a mid-level government school whose position gets threatened by a new rival PTI named Mohan. To keep his job, Montu challenges Mohan to three competitions between teams comprised of both instructors’ selected players, involving a four-hundred-meter relay race, a basketball game, and a kabaddi match. Whose team wins, that PT teacher gets to stay. Chhalaang currently holds a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics praising the film’s sports sequences, meaning the emotional intensity they convey.

4. Panga

Panga is another 2020 sports drama directed and written by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, an artist that became famous for her debuting 2016 comedy-drama Nil Battey Sannata. The plot here gets inspired by the life of a female National-level Kabbadi player, following her overcoming of stereotypes, struggles, and triumphs, en route to learning the value of family support and love.

Panga won its star, Kangana Ranaut, the National Film Award for Best Actress, and French Marie Claire magazine called the film one of Bollywood’s best ever. It grossed ₹41.71 crores in its theatrical run globally.

3. Badlapur Boys

Produced by A. Muthu and Salim Tanwar and directed by Shailesh Verma, Badlapur Boys is a story that centers around a boy, Vijay, whose village suffers from a water shortage. As a means to bring attention to their settlement’s dramatic issue, Vijay’s father decides to set himself ablaze. Yet, his sacrifice yields little positivity for his community and only brings misfortune to his family.

Later, Vijay aims to perform in a kabaddi event, hoping to bring the change his father couldn’t. In short, Badlapur Boys is a story of underdogs who seek to resolve crucial socio-economic problems through kabaddi. It did not garner tremendous financial success but is still a decent uplifting watch.

2. Okkadu

Released on 15 January 2003, Okkadu was a box office smash-hit, quickly becoming of the most successful Telugu movies of all time, grossing its distributor a share of ₹30 crores on a budget of ₹13 crores. It earned multiple awards, including Best Film – Telugu, four Filmfare Awards South, and eight Nandi honours.

Okkadu’s storyline depicts a Kabbadi player’s (Ajay Varma) brave efforts to rescue a beautiful young woman (Swapna Reddy) from an arranged marriage she wants no part of, whom he meets while visiting Kurnool to play in a state-level tournament.

1. Ghilli

Ghilli is the Tamil remake of Okkadu, starring Vijay, Trisha, and Prakash Raj. It also broke box office records and became a blockbuster phenomenon, as the first Tamil movie to gross ₹50 crores. Many consider it Vijay’s best on-screen performance and a staple in the one-man-army sub-genre, but with a dramatic twist.

Ghilli has everything, drama, comedy, action, and romance. It is one of six Okkadu remakes, and in most critics’ eyes, it is the best one. Ghilli has an 8.1 score on the Internet Movie Database from fifteen thousand votes, and it has no Rotten Tomatoes rating, as it only has one review listed there.  

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