The recently released 'Sarpatta Parambarai'- the movie which brings out the history of boxing in North Chennai has created a nation-wide sensation as the movie is touted as one of the best boxing movies that Indian cinema has produced, so far. The movie has portrayed the scenario of boxing that prevailed during the times of national emergency in the 1970s and how boxing rings were used as political stages.
However, the family of Kitheri Muthu, one of the first boxers of Sarpatta Parambarai who peeked even before Independence, feels that the boxing history was distorted in the movie. One of their key contentions in the movie is the scene that says 'Rangan Vadhiyar defeated boxer Teri'. In the movie, Arya, the hero, is seen saying that he was the student of Rangan Vadhiyar who defeated Teri.
The family of Kitheri Muthu disputes the claims in the movie and says that it was Muthu who defeated Teri in 1942. "Earlier, there was Tamil boxing only practiced in North Chennai in which the players have to hit each other only in the face but in 1940s English boxing came into practice where boxers were permitted to hit in the body, above groins. Our grandfather who practiced Tamil boxing shifted to English boxing and defeated Teri", Johnson, the eldest grandson of Kitheri Muthu, told DT Next.
Teri was a Black British who continuously defeated reputed boxers in entire south India. In 1942, Teri defeated Arunachalam, the most senior boxer of Sarpatta Parambarai then. Following the defeat elders and sponsors of Sarpatta Parambarai chose Kitheri Muthu, one of the finest boxers that Sarpatta Parambarai has seen so far, to fight against Teri but the problem with Muthu was he was an expert in Tamil boxing till that time.
Muthu was given intense training in English boxing for three months and was made to fight with Teri in which Muthu had defeated Teri. The victory was widely celebrated as one of the best victories of Sarpatta Parambarai of all times and following the victory, Dravidian legends such as Periyar, poet Kannadasan, former Chief Minister Annadurai, and fishermen leader Jeevarathinam participated in a function in Royapuram and gave the title 'Dravida Veeran' to Kitheri Muthu.
"The title 'Dravida Veeran' was given only to our grandfather and that is history but in the movie, the name of our grandfather was never used once in the movie 'Sarpatta Parambarai'. Our grandfather was the key in Sarpatta Parambarai who produced many gems for the Parambarai in future such as T T Masi, Thiayagaran and Vijayan but proper recognition was not given to him", rues Stephen, another grandson of Kitheri Muthu, who is still into boxing and runs a boxing academy in the name of Kitheri Muthu.
After defeating Teri, Kitheri Muthu's style of boxing was widely popular among the boxers of North Chennai, and even former Chief Minister M G Ramachandran aka MGR in his movie 'Needhiku Thalaivanangu' has spoken about Kitheri Muthu where he once said that he will land Kitheri Muthu's punch on the enemy's face. Even once Kitheri Muthu was asked to fight with MGR for a movie scene but the boxer refused citing the reason that he will not lose in the fight with MGR even if it is for a movie.
"Such was the passion of Kitheri Muthu towards boxing. He always wanted to win matches and to bring glory to Sarpatta Parambarai", said Stephen.
Another contention for the family in the movie is how MGR was portrayed in the movie. "In the movie, MGR was shown as a person who did not promote boxing but it was wrong. MGR loved boxing and boxers and brought international boxers like Muhammad Ali to Tamil Nadu to fight with local boxers. In fact, MGR was a fan of Sarpatta Parambarai and in his movie 'Kaval Karan' MGR said that he too belongs to 'Sarpatta Parambarai'. Boxing in North Chennai was above religion, caste and politics", said Johnson, who was closed with Kitheri Muthu.
Different Paramabrais of boxing:
Speaking about various Parambarais (lineage in English) in North Chennai that were into boxing, Stephen said that apart from Sarpatta Parambarai there are Idiyappa Nayakar Parambarai, Ellappa Chetti Parambai, and Sunnambu Kalvai parambarai. In boxing Parambarai the relationship is not father-son-like families but between the teacher and student. Even same family members can be part of two different Parambarais as was shown in the movie where the character Rangan Vadhiyar is seen saying that though he was part of Sarpatta Parambarai his elder brother was part of Idiyappa Nayakar parambarai.
"Parambarais were basically boxing clubs. The word Parambarai is not in common usage now as they have also formed different clubs. Sarpatta Parambarai has disintegrated into various clubs and now we do not fight as Sarpatta Parambarai anymore. We have our clubs through which we contest", said Stephen.
Need to unban professional boxing:
In the early part of the 1980s, there was an unofficial ban on professional boxing in the state due to law and order issues. "In those days, the fencing for boxing matches was not proper and there were trespasses. There were incidents where chairs were thrown at the boxers and there were law and order issues following which there was a ban for the sport but now the situation has improved and tight security can be provided for matches", said Johnson, who left the profession boxing after the ban.
Stephen added that professional boxing matches are held even now but not frequently. Only if the ban on professional boxing is lifted and regulation is brought boxing will again boom in the state.
Are dancing boxers real?
There was a character 'Dancing Rose' shown in the movie 'Sarpatta Paramabarai' and when the boxers were asked about the character they said that dancing boxers are real. "Dancing Mohan and Dancing Elumalai are reputed boxers who were known for their footwork. Due to their lighting footwork and jiggle movements, they were given the title dancing boxers. There was a boxer named Rose but he was not a Dancing Rose", said Stephen.