Tag Archives: Deepika Kumari

Ladies First: the Deepika Kumari documentary finally gets released on Netflix

8 March, 2018

Deepika Kumari, Antalya World Cup 2017

“Often I feel like answering back, but then I feel if I respond with words, people might forget. But if I respond with my arrows, they’ll never forget.”

On International Women’s Day, they’ve finally released to Netflix a long-awaited (by me, anyway) doc about Indian archer Deepika Kumari. If you’ve got Netflix, click here or search for ‘Ladies First’ on it.

N.B it defaults to voiceover (or it did on mine, anyway). Check the settings and make sure you have the original Hindi soundtrack and English subs on.

Just 40 minutes long, it’s beautifully shot and edited. When I heard about it last year, I was nervous that it would use her story as some kind of sappy moralist cipher. Am pleased to see they’ve done a lot better than that, even if it is a bit heavy-handed in places

As the most often-repeated soundbite goes, Kumari was ‘born on the roadside’ in grinding poverty in rural India, before her rise to (almost) the very top of the sport. Apparently, she only took it up because there was a place to stay at a local sport academy – as she puts it: “I thought if I left home, there would be more money.”

India recently ranked bottom in a recent survey of G20 countries of ‘the best place to be a woman’. Almost 45 percent of Indian girls are married before they turn 18. In poor regions like Jharkand, around 60% of girls are married before they are 16, and often younger. In rural India, there is a particularly deep antipathy to women taking up any kind of sport.

Deepika Kumari in the call room, Rio 2016

But nevertheless, she persisted. The film shows her uncle being very proud that he beat up her mother. It shows the utterly shitty treatment of her as an athlete – which, if you read about the various tribulations of the Archery Association of India in the last year or two, doesn’t look like it’s entirely over yet.

But Ladies First is already having an effect – after watching the documentary, Maneka Gandhi, the Indian minister of Women’s Affairs and Child Development, apparently pledged to set up a fund to support Deepika’s training and to support other female athletes. Well, it’s about time. The film graphically shows the remarkable discrepancies within Indian Olympic sport, with the women’s archery team making the 32 hour journey to Rio in economy, while their accompanying officials travelled business class.

Kumari was apparently reluctant at first to participate in the film because it might interfere with her Rio preparation, but eventually grew to trust the filmmakers enough to open up further than ever before.  “The story is about fighting,” director Shaana Levy-Bahl said to Vogue India last week. “Sports gives girls a sense of worth and confidence.”

Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to meet Deepika several times, although I’ve found her very difficult to interview, about anything. Recently I wondered if she might not be totally comfortable speaking in English. So the last time, in Rome, I asked her and her coach if she wanted to speak in Hindi, so I could get it translated, but she wasn’t having it. I did a piece with what I had, but it really wasn’t much. Ach, maybe it’s just me. 🙂

But I could entirely understand her wariness of talking to me/men/anybody, as the Indian media is notoriously sexist and frequently vicious about their sportspeople, and even more so when they are from Jharkand (for a comparison, imagine how the most reactionary media in your country would react to a gypsy Olympian). The film includes an incident in 2013 with Kumari and her teammates, fresh from a Hyundai Archery World Cup victory (where they beat Korea) being harassed to the point of tears by TV crews at Indira Ghandi airport.

Deepika Kumari and teammates at the Antalya World Cup 2017

The endemic sexism in the Indian media frequently extends to the language of reporting; when male archers get beaten, they were “overpowered”, but when Kumari gets beaten, she “meekly succumbed”.

Apparently Kumari is about to star in a movie about her homeland. Perhaps her archery career is just getting going. Perhaps – like her recent nemesis Tan Ya-Ting – she needs just one big major win to open the floodgates. But it’s clear that her role as a beacon of what is possible is just beginning.

Decent news piece with quotes in the Indy. 






Ladies First: a documentary about Deepika Kumari

3 October, 2017

pic from ladiesfirstdoc.com

This month a documentary made about and starring Deepika Kumari called Ladies First has appeared. Shot in the buildup to the Rio 2016 Olympics, where Deepika finished 9th, it has high ambitions:

Ladies First tells the story of Deepika Kumari who, born on the roadside to abject poverty in rural India, went in search of food, stumbled upon archery, and within 4 years became the number one archer in the world!

We document Deepika’s tumultuous path to the Rio 2016 Olympics. Having to overcome the obstacles of a socially repressive system, she strives to achieve her dream of becoming the first Indian woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal.

Our aim is to create new role models, with the belief that human connection and the power of storytelling is the necessary catalyst for social change, our goal is to connect audiences to an inspirational role model – a girl who is an unstoppable force, a survivor and a fighter. We hope Deepika’s story and her tenacity help dismantle the barriers holding girls back and give them the courage to fight and follow their dreams.

They’ve clearly managed to get Deepika to trust them and open up a little; unusual for an athlete so wary of the media – and she wasn’t, by the sounds of it, very keen on participating if this piece in Vogue India is correct.

You can watch an older trailer here: https://vimeo.com/167603028

Unfortunately there’s no word yet on exactly when, where and how anyone will be able to see this film. (I’ve emailed the filmmakers twice, but had no reply yet).

More on the making of it here: http://www.indianwomenblog.org/team-of-ladies-first-play-flashback-of-bts-moments-with-archer-deepika-kumari/

It’s clear they want a wider audience, but I think a lot of people on the archery side would be very keen to see it, so let’s hope they make it easily available in some shape or form soon.

Read more at: ladiesfirstdoc.com

pic from ladiesfirstdoc.com

Deepika Kumari: and on it goes

7 September, 2015



“I am worried over Deepika’s problem. Less than a year is left for the Olympics and Deepika has to come up with her best. Her selection for Rio will hinge a lot on her performance in the coming months,” said Jamshedpur-based Dharmendra Tiwary, who was the Indian team mentor at both Denmark and Poland competitions.

While Deepika, Majhi and Biruily have qualified for next year’s Rio Olympics team event, their participation hinges on Indian selectors’ appraisal of their performance in various tournaments in the lead-up to the world’s biggest sports extravaganza.

“Unlike Champia, who has qualified for Olympics in his individual capacity and will, therefore, compete in Rio, the women will need to maintain their performance in upcoming national and international competitions for getting selected in the Indian squad,” explained V.V.S.N. Rao, former technical director of Tata archery cradle.

“Hence, the upcoming events are very crucial for the women archers,” he said.

Tiwary explained that Deepika was a top-bracket archer who was a seasoned performer with a hunger to do well. “When she was new to archery, Deepika used to shoot well with a free mind. But that is not the situation now. She may be feeling bogged down by the pressure to perform. This happens when one becomes seasoned. Remember, Deepika is in archery for more than a decade now,” he explained.

I’ve written before about the endemic sexism in the Indian media about Deepika Kumari​ and unfortunately, it shows no sign of going away. But when her own coaches help to stick the knife in, it seems particularly awful.

I’m struggling to think of any other country or NGB that would undermine its own elite Olympic athletes by detailing their perceived faults in public, to the press. Unfortunately, it only seems to happen to female athletes, and Kumari in particular, despite her relatively strong season so far and anchoring a team that qualified for Rio.

Even worse is the incorrect assertion that Mangal Singh Champia qualified himself personally for Rio, when he only qualified a individual place for Indian men. I suppose the Indian archery association might have some internal code about what would happen in Copenhagen qualification, but if what he is saying is true, i.e. Champia gained a place that was somehow ‘his’ by right but the women had to earn their places in a 2016 selection shoot (like most  other nations) then surely that would be deeply unethical, not to mention possibly illegal?

Even if he is just wrong, the choice of words is telling. It’s not so surprising in a country recently cited as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman, but a lot of attitudes in the world of Indian sport seem stuck firmly in the nineteenth century – and the country’s media still apparently do nothing to help.