If you haven’t heard of Ngangom Dingko Singh, you know nothing about Indian boxing. Aged 19, the high-calibre Manipuri pugilist ended India’s 16-year wait for an Asian Boxing gold during the 1998 Bangkok edition with his victory in the 54-kg Bantamweight category.
His sensational victory inspired an entire generation of Manipuri boxers who have gone onto bring laurels for the country including the indomitable Mary Kom, Suranjoy Singh, Sarita Devi and Devendro Singh.
From growing up in an orphanage to battling and beating bile duct cancer, Dingko Singh has lived a remarkable life. And now we may get a glimpse of that life thanks to a biopic on the Indian boxing legend – starring Bollywood actor Shahid Kapoor. Directed by Raja Krishna Menon of ‘Airlift’ and ‘Chef’ fame, the film is expected to release in April 2019.
Speaking to news publications, actor Shahid Kapoor said that this is one of his most ambitious projects to date.
“The thing that I loved about this story is that he is one of those superstars who we don’t know much about. If a film like Dangal (2016) wasn’t made, we wouldn’t know as much about the Phogat sisters. Dingko is a cancer survivor, and he went through 13 rounds of chemotherapy. He has even gone on to say that his biggest win was surviving cancer and not the gold medal he won at the age of 19 at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok,” the actor, who will play Dingko Singh, told DNA.
“In 2017, Gautam Gambhir became aware of his situation and sent money for his treatment. Soon, people found out who he was, and 13 doctors came forward to help him. He is a sports star who survived cancer. At some point in his past, he had almost become a Naxalite. His life story is unbelievably crazy; it is very human and extremely inspiring. Such amazing stories of heroes need to be told,” the actor added.
Dingko was born on January 1, 1979, in a remote village called Sekta in the Imphal East District of Manipur. Born in crushing poverty, Dingko was raised at an orphanage where his dreams of becoming an athlete began to take shape.
Thanks to the Special Area Games Scheme started by the Sports Authority of India, which aims at scouting natural talent for competitive sports and games from inaccessible tribal, rural and coastal areas of the country and nurturing them, Indian officials spotted Dingko’s natural talent for boxing.
Under the tutelage of Major OP Bhatia, a senior official at SAI, Dingko went onto establish himself as an exceedingly talented boxer.
His first title at the age of 10 in a Sub-Junior National Boxing tournament in Ambala caught the attention of Indian sports officials and coaches began to train him for a career in the sport.
He went onto win the prestigious King’s Cup in Thailand (now called Thailand International Invitational Boxing Tournament) a year before the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games Dingko was well on his way.
The road to gold, however, wasn’t without its share of drama. He was initially dropped from the Indian Boxing squad for the Asian Games for reasons that remain unknown.
Devastated when he heard the news, a young Dingko went on a bender, before coaches intervened at the last minute and inducted him into the squad. The rest, as they say, is history. He went onto beat the-then world no. 3 Timur Tulyakov of Uzbekistan in the final to win gold.
Mary Kom once said that it was Dingko’s success in Bangkok that inspired her to pick up boxing. That’s the effect he had on an entire generation of Manipuris.
Following the Asian Games, he participated in the 1999 National Games, a preparation of sorts before the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Unfortunately, during the National games, Dingko fractured his hand, an injury that would never completely heal thanks to uncaring officials.
In the Olympics, he crashed out of the first round, and his career never quite recovered.
Fortunately, he was given the Arjuna Award in 1998 following his Asian Games success, and a home and job by the Indian Navy. In 2013, he was awarded the Padma Shri.
After spending many years in the Navy, he went back to coaching in 2013 with SAI, and training the next generation of Indian boxers.
“This was where it all started for me. So, I wanted to give back. I had a plan, to produce at least two Olympians by 2020. Then I got sick. Now I have to shift my targets slightly, maybe at the 2024 Olympics,” he told The New Indian Express earlier this year.
Dingko Singh came back into the news in February 2017, when news came of his cancer. Suffering from bile duct cancer, doctors had to remove nearly 70% of his liver.
Financially, however, the cost of treatment nearly crushed him and his family. He had to sell the house the government gave him for his treatment.
Fortunately, the government and other major sports personalities like Gautam Gambhir and Sarita Devi stepped up to arrange money for his treatment.
After many rounds of chemotherapy, Dingko is on the road to recovery and back coaching his wards at the SAI complex.
What an incredible life. It deserves a Bollywood biopic.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)