The Great Khali Returns

A few weeks ago I did a post on The Great Khali, an Indian WWE wrestler, who has recently risen to stardom of a sort on American TV.

Last week he visited India, and generated a fair amount of excitement and interest from Indian fans. No one seemed to be bothered by the way the WWE exploits orientalist mythology to cast The Great Khali as the bad guy. No one seemed to mind the bowdlerization of Hinduism represented by his name, “Khali,” which is a kind of tweak on the feminine “Kali,” or the anomaly of a male wrestler naming himself after a female deity.

No one, as far as I can tell, used the words “anomaly” or “orientalism” at all.

Mostly, they just cheered on the 400 pound behemoth who eats five full chickens a day (how many calories is that?). In Himachal Pradesh, where Dalip Singh Rana is from, they honored him. In Bombay, he met with underprivileged school children. T-shirts with his face on them have been selling wildly. Even the great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar found himself taking his family to pay homage to Khali at the wrestler’s hotel room. Finally, a visit to his former employers, the Punjab police. I was surprised to learn from some of the coverage that Rana, when he left India in 2006 to join the WWE, did not quit his day job. In fact, though he is surely making much, much more money now than he ever did before, he is technically only on “sick leave” from his job as a policeman in India.

Of course, the most intriguing article on The Great Khali’s Return I’ve come across is this one, on CNN-IBN: “Is it sport? Is it fake? What is WWE?” The journalist seems to be under some confusion as to whether the fighting in WWE is real or not:

But every wrestler in the business has to be classified under two categories. He is either a babyface or “good guy” for whom the crowd cheers — like Hulk Hogan — or he’s the bad guy or a heel as per wrestling terminology — someone like our very own Khali — whom the crowd loves to hate.

And just like in the movies when a babyface is pitted against a heel, the fight is on.

But what makes pro-wrestling really interesting is that with time, the characters keep evolving — good guys turn bad and vice versa. Interesting storylines, heated rivalries and unexpected twists in the show keep the viewer hooked.

A character’s popularity is determined by the amount of POP — a wrestling term for the reaction that a wrestler gets on his entrance — he gets.

And no, most of the fighting is not fake. (link)

Not fake, huh. You could have fooled me.

32 thoughts on “The Great Khali Returns

  1. the fighting is fake, as in the wrestlers/actors are not really at war with eachother, but the injuries and the emotional toll exacted by the 200+day travel schedule and being thrown/throwing others constantly really adds up. That’s the main reason for the drug addictions that have killed wrestlers like the British Bulldog, chris benoit and ruined so many other lives. Rana is lucky because in order to maintain his appearance (mass) during the grueling travel schedule, all he really has to do is eat a lot.

    i can’t remember the interview but i think he’s also put out the idea that he’s a complete vegetarian–ludicrous considering that the difference between being a gaunt giant and the behemoth that he is now is plenty of animal protein.

  2. Growing up in India, I used to watch Video Tapes of Tony Atlas, SD Jones, Rocky Johnson, Andre The Giant, etc. I was devastated when Sportstar published an article claiming that it was all a show. Nowadays, if I want blood and violence, I tune into UFC.

  3. Growing up in India, I used to watch Video Tapes of Tony Atlas, SD Jones, Rocky Johnson, Andre The Giant, etc. I was devastated when Sportstar published an article claiming that it was all a show. Nowadays, if I want blood and violence, I tune into UFC.

    When we used to go to Delhi and Chandigarh to visit relatives in the mid- and late 1980s, I remember being surprised that my teenage cousins didn’t realize the WWF (as it was then called) was fake. They also really REALLY liked Michael Jackson, in a way I never had.

    Is there any chance the UFC is also faked (or at least, manipulated for TV)?

  4. I remember being surprised that my teenage cousins didn’t realize the WWF (as it was then called) was fake.

    Did they give you the John Stossel treatment?

  5. Did they give you the John Stossel treatment?

    No, but now they are all overachieving IIT and IIM graduates, who make slacker Americans look bad.

  6. the fighting is fake, as in the wrestlers/actors are not really at war with eachother, but the injuries and the emotional toll exacted by the 200+day travel schedule and being thrown/throwing others constantly really adds up.

    Don’t forget to mention “the piledriver

    Andre The Giant

    Anybody want a peanut? I loved him more in film – Princess Bride.

    So, UMM,you weren’t watching tapes of wrestling from the days of Dusty Rhodes and Sweet Sugar Brown? I had a crazy great-aunt who’d babysit us kids, feed us jello and vanilla wafers. She’d chain smoke and we’d all watch wrastlin’. We were never told it was fake.

    So why did Rana have to leave India to become famous there?

  7. Is there any chance the UFC is also faked (or at least, manipulated for TV)?

    No…UFC is predominantly MMA(mixed martial arts)fighters; i would say it has the potential of being manipulated for tv, but not anymore than the NBA or boxing matches are fixed. I would suspect a less likelihood of foul play since comparatively less gambling occurs as UFC isn’t primteime.

  8. Is there any chance the UFC is also faked (or at least, manipulated for TV)?

    No…UFC is predominantly MMA(mixed martial arts)fighters; i would say it has the potential of being manipulated for tv, but not anymore than the NBA or boxing matches are fixed. I would suspect a less likelihood of foul play since comparatively less gambling occurs as UFC isn’t primteime

    Absolutely not faked. I’ve had the priviledge of meeting and training with UFC fighters and without a doubt, those skillz are mad real. I train with an MMA guy last night that’s now that’s crossed over to boxing. It isn’t rare for our groups too mix.

    Much of the theatre of the match is created by promoters and there isn’t actually too much behind the scenes drama between fighters themselves.

  9. Growing up in India, I used to watch Video Tapes of Tony Atlas, SD Jones, Rocky Johnson, Andre The Giant, etc.

    SD Jones the dude who lost at Wrestlemania 1 to King Kong Bundy in 9 seconds.

  10. Khali got booed allot as I remember because he was a pretty crap wrestler. Just the fact that he was a big bugger meant that he stood out. Don’t take a brain surgeon to think, lets do a David V goliath story.

    Big Ups to the Great Dara Singh, Worldwide Legend.

  11. Yup, I too read he’s vegetarian. (I hear the five-chickens-a-day bit is highly contested, but who knows.) Here’s the BBC story where I first read about him. This story is by a Tehelka reporter, I believe. It also talks about how he got his name, “The Great Khali”.

    Rana says he is a vegetarian and abhors alcohol and tobacco. He says he lives a “simple life” with his homemaker wife Harminder Kaur .”I have no fancy villa or cars. I live in a simple home and do not have the money to order a customised car that would fit my size,” he says.

    Not a WWF fan at all. But was curious how a 7-footer got by in India :)

  12. 1 · Nayagan said

    i can’t remember the interview but i think he’s also put out the idea that he’s a complete vegetarian–ludicrous considering that the difference between being a gaunt giant and the behemoth that he is now is plenty of animal protein.

    oh really? what do you say about these people then?

  13. the feminine “Kali,” or the anomaly of a male wrestler naming himself after a female deity

    .

    Not uncommon. Kali, Kali{suffix} are common names in India and amongst diaspora Hindus. Arguably one of the best left handed batsmen in the 1970s was a West Indian cricketer (later captain) called Alvin Kallicharran. See this awesome video of him demolishing the great Dennis Lillee in the 1975 World Cup.

  14. Amardeep, You write: No one seemed to be bothered by the way the WWE exploits orientalist mythology to cast The Great Khali as the bad guy. No one seemed to mind the bowdlerization of Hinduism represented by his name, “Khali,” which is a kind of tweak on the feminine “Kali,” or the anomaly of a male wrestler naming himself after a female deity.

    Not everything needs to be analyzed in this fashion. Its WWF. Its not foreigh policy :-)

  15. oh really? what do you say about these people then?

    Tipiyano, don’t forget there’s the 247 lb. Vegan NFL star Tony Gonzalez.

  16. Neale, I was actually trying to be funny/ironic there — guess it didn’t work.

    (I was tempted to throw in a “;-)” to underline that it was meant ironically, but somehow I always feel like it’s a cop-out when I have to put emoticons in my posts…)

  17. 13 · tipiyano said

    oh really? what do you say about these people then?

    sure you can get to a certain level (almost entirely determined by genes though), if you have the stomach capacity to pound enough soy protein (i’ve gained weight as lacto-veg but couldn’t keep up with the eating schedule) but i’ve found it’s much easier to eat the same amount of protein in egg whites and fish.

    anyways, the vast majority of freaks you see in mags are voracious meat-eaters and genetic advantages aside, there’s just no way he gets to 400lbs by a diet of tempeh burgers and soy protein alone.

    Tony Gonzalez only switched to vegan after a lifetime of meat (feeling weaker as a result in the weight room) and most famous BBs who made the switch did so after getting as heavy as they could on a non-veg diet. Tony himself had to eventually add small amounts of chicken and fish, in addition to loads of soy protein and fish oil, to be able to pick up the 100s and move them like he used to.

    Search even the natural BB ranks and you’ll see very few winning competitions as 100% vegan or lacto-veg–it’s not the conditioning, muscle separation or shape that marks the difference, it’s the sheer mass (and this in a subset of BB that is ruled by people with the first three factors down).

    final point: Rana is obviously not a BB and probably doesn’t follow the hypertrophy style workouts that BBs love–someone his size who is looking to keep weight on is doing exclusively olympic lifts and other compound exercises where you can pack on the weight and involve several muscle groups–a program that requires lots of calories to achieve the desired effect.

  18. Nayagan, I read the same article on Gonzalez but I understood that it was suggested to him that he add chicken and fish to his diet but before quitting he wanted to give the vegan diet another try so he was put in contact with Jon Hinds a vegan/athelete/trainer (his monkey bar gym exercise circuits have changed my life). Hinds showed him what groceries to buy and how to eat a vegan diet that’d give him enough protein, etc. Perhpas I misunderstood. Let me add that I didn’t think vegetarians could be the bulky muscular type until I met someone who is a lifelong vegetarian. At first sight I thought he was a Maori rugby player.

  19. 20 · bess said

    Perhpas I misunderstood.

    simple timeline error–we all do it occasionally (he went to hinds first, then was lassoed by the team nutritionist and told to add a bit of meat to the diet–which is actually a great example for the average meat-eater who wants to economize and have more regular movements). Gonzalez loss of strength is not surprising–what i’m really waiting for is whether Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers) experiences any change in strength levels (probly not cuz it’s all from daddy).

    Is Rana’s character as poopy as Apu (if an Apu impersonator were to tour india, what kind of reception would they get?)

  20. As is typical with wrestling, they try to use the ethnic stereotyping / racial jokes to work the crowd into a lather, the same way they make fun of wrestlers who “seem gay” in the stories, etc. But they don’t do that nearly so much with Khali (especially not anymore). Although people may think he’s from the “Jungles of Poon-job,” maybe the regular fans are just a little sick of this kind of humor, and the WWE caught on to it?

    Maybe that’s wishful thinking.

  21. I believe this kind of wrestling was introduced in India in the mid 50s. It was called American Freestyle Wrestling. Even as kids we knew it was more showmanship than sport. At the time the good guy was Dara Singh, who looked like a buff Dharmendra and was later a successful film star. The bad guy invariably was King Kong, a fat nasty-looking piece of work with a shaven head.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dara_Singh http://www.punjabilok.com/misc/movies/dara_singh.htm

  22. Nayagan,

    I have seen Indian style WWF bot in Bombay and in Calcutta. Wrestling season was marked by the poster war with the fight promoters pasting blood curdling threats from the foreign wrestlers – Haystack Calhoun etc – threatening a newbie like Baljeet – Randhawa’s son. By the time I got to see them, the great Dara had retired but Randhawa was still going strong. There were a number of junior wrestlers too who were sparring partners for the senior ones and gladly took the falls and piledrivers all evening before the main show started. Although the moves are scripted the falls are for real, and I have seen the wrestlers cut and bruised all over. Randhawa had genuine strength and could take on two heavies toether hefting them off the ground with either arm. No faking that. The crowd consisted of plenty of bhaiyyas and gwalas from Borivili, sardar cab drivers from Koliwada, tambis from Dharavi and Sion, and Ganpats from all over. And trust me quite a few of them were tough enough to wrestle! Great fun!

  23. WWE is an equal oppurtunity offender, I have been watching since it was the WWF. I liked the old school better than some of the new crap that is going down,The great Khali is boring as a wrestler Sonjay Dutt needs to get more props than him.

  24. I’ve had the priviledge of meeting and training with UFC fighters and without a doubt, those skillz are mad real.

    Chuck Lidell?

    WWE is an equal oppurtunity offender, I have been watching since it was the WWF.

    Please, it’s clear who gets shafted by ignorance and who doesn’t. the closest they come to offending the WASP was “IRS” and actually, they threw an anti-jewish epithet, as it expanded to “Irwin R. Sheister”

    But Tatanka, Samba Simba, Razor Ramon, Yokozuna, among others, were straight up stereotypes.

  25. Please, it’s clear who gets shafted by ignorance and who doesn’t. the closest they come to offending the WASP was “IRS” and actually, they threw an anti-jewish epithet, as it expanded to “Irwin R. Sheister”

    But Tatanka, Samba Simba, Razor Ramon, Yokozuna, among others, were straight up stereotypes.

    Ludvig Borga{Finland],Skinner[Australia],The Mountie[Canada],and on and on. There have been more then several redneck wrestler from the south who had made out to be dumb. I can recall seeing an Irish midget wrestler that was major sterotype. William Regal is the stuck up Brit.

    About 15 years ago in the early 90′s, The Mountie was major story in Canada and as a result when ever we wrestled in Canada he had to go by his real name.

  26. Jyotsana : Since you mentioned Dara Singh I presume you were responding to my comment and not Nayagan’s. Perhaps you are suffering from Nayagan overload.

  27. Add Prince Fielder and Ricky Williams (vegan) to the list of veggie big boys, though Fielder’s power numbers are down since the shift this summer – likely not a result, but still.

  28. This site here states that the lady in the pic with Khali is supposedly Khali’s wife-Harminder Kaur. Is this really his wife or someone who got her photo taken with Khali?!