Hyderabad: India’s most successful football coach was perhaps also India’s most neglected personality.
Syed Abdul Rahim of Hyderabad took India to gold medals in two Asian Games, beating Iran and Japan, among others, in 1951, and Japan and Korea in 1962. Such a feat now looks like an impossibility. As if that was not enough, Rahim guided India to fourth place in the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. India defeated host Australia in that tournament.
But the far sighted leader did not get any awards or recognition. For some unexplained reason he was overlooked time and again by the government when the question of the Padma awards came up. His contributions remained precious only in the minds of football lovers.
But now, at long last, his name will be immortalised through the medium of films. The Ajay Devgn starrer titled Maidaan is set to release on June 3, 2022. Sharing the news on social media the actor wrote: “Maidaan, a story that will resonate with every Indian, it’s a film that I feel very strongly about.”
The film will have Ajay Devgn in the leading role as Coach Abdul Rahim. It is directed by Amit Sharma and the dialogues have been written by Saiwyn Quadras (who was also involved in the making of the biopic on the Queen of boxing, Mary Kom). The film Maidaan will focus on the golden era of Indian football because that was the period when Rahim was at the helm of affairs. Family Man star Priyamani stars alongside Devgn.
The movie is produced by Zee studios in collaboration with Bayview Projects. Shooting commenced on 19 August 2019, and the film is scheduled for worldwide release in theatres on 3rd June 2022.
After a slew of biopics on famous athletes such as Milkha Singh and Mary Kom, this film has raised expectations sky high. For the first time a football coach will be the subject and that too a son of Hyderabad. Football lovers in the twin cities are hopeful that the film will present an accurate and gripping account of the life of the great coach. Any deviations and cinematic jugglery will only dilute the achievements of a man who is a legendary figure in Hyderabad.
There has been enough drama and tension in the life of Rahim. There is no need for any additional theatrical effects. All that the story requires is an adherence to the facts. There were many occasions of tension and stress which were ably handled by Rahim as team coach.
It was he who unearthed many notable players from the twin cities. Tulasidas Balaram of Secunderabad who is now 80 plus in age. He lives in Kolkata. He was one of his finds. The great player has always emphasized how much Rahim meant to him. The famous P.K. Banerjee, who was trained by Rahim as a player, used to follow his policies when he himself became a coach.
There were moments of great emotion too. Rahim’s last meeting with his team is extremely poignant. When he took the team to the Asian Games in 1962, he was aware that he had lung cancer and that his days were numbered. Before the gold medal match against the strong South Korean team, Rahim told his players: “Aaj meri ek akhri khwahish puri kar do. Mere haathon mein gold medal la ke rakh do.”
Fired by his words the players became determined to fulfill the wish of their dying leader. As soon as the match began, they went on a rampage. They fought like lions and overthrew the Korean team 2-1. But after the match they did not celebrate. They quietly entered the room where Rahim was sitting and one by one, they placed their medals in his hands.
He stood up, hugged each player in turn and told them that they were his children. They should never be sad and should always devote themselves to their sport and play fairly. With these words he walked out of the room and never returned.
After the tournament, he took admission in hospital and passed away within a few months.
Will the film on his life capture these poignant moments? One hopes that the filmmakers will pay heed to these facts which made Rahim’s life full of emotion and action. They should make a film worthy of the person after whom it is being made. One hopes that the film will inform the youth of today who was Syed Abdul Rahim and what was his contribution to Indian football.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.