In one of the last episodes of Star One’s mythological serial Shakuntala: An Eternal Love Story, the producers wanted to include a fight scene to break up the narrative’s dominant melodrama. One of the show’s main characters, a soldier in the king’s court, would be attacked by four minions despatched by his arch nemesis, a scheming tantrik.
Red fist: In his formative years, Gajanand Rajput trained for 14-16 hours.
Leading the pack of extras who would die a spectacularly flamboyant death at the soldier’s hands was India’s national kung fu champion—30-year-old Gajanand Rajput.
“There’s a real lack of kung fu talent among the serial extras, so I usually have to step into the scene myself,” says the three-time national gold medal winner and freelance fight choreographer, in a telephone interview. In just the last two years, Rajput has had to go beyond the call of choreographing duty in Sony’s Arslaan, Star’s Prithviraj Chauhan and Colors’ Mahavir Hanuman.
Wushu and kung fu are synonymous with Chinese martial arts, which are equal parts performance (like gymnastics at the Olympics) and contact sport. Rajput is a “traditional” wushu practitioner, which means he focuses on the performance part of wushu, and not the sport—which involves sparring with opponents and resembles kick-boxing.
“I started training in 1992, when I was a 13-year-old growing up in Ahmedabad,” he says. He began participating in school- and district-level tournaments, bagging a silver at the Gujarat state martial arts championship in 1993, and a gold in the All Gujarat Wushu KungFu and San Shou Championship in 1994. He attended wushu camps in Nepal for a few years, building up expertise in an impressive array of wushu sub-disciplines (“weapons, bare hands and self-defence”). At the same time, he helped organize seminars, training camps and competitions around India—including a National Wushu Festival in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, in November 2001. The Wushu Kung Fu Federation of India began sending teams and contingents to international competitions—which took Rajput to wushu competitions in Russia, China and the US.
In 2006, a year after he got married, Rajput decided to train at the famous Shaolin Temple monastery near the town of Dengfeng in south China. He was part of a five-member team from India that looked to get official sponsorships for the trip, but the deal fell through—and Rajput had to raise the money from his own savings.
“Training at the Shaolin Temple is a dream for any martial arts performer. It taught me so much,” says Rajput. But his description of the actual process of getting there resembles writing the Common Admission Test, or CAT, more than embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
There was the high tuition fee, nearly $1,500 (around Rs70,050) for his month-long course. There were streams and electives to choose from, each with a detailed curriculum. “It’s like choosing between science and arts in school,” he says. Rajput chose “Northern kung fu”, a long-range style that favours running, dodging and acrobatics (similar to the fighting sequences shown in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and “Xiao Hong Quan”, which literally means “red fist”. There was the tiring daily schedule, with classes starting at 5.30am, and going on for 14-16 hours a day.
Unlike Japanese disciplines such as tae kwon do, kung fu does not have an ascending hierarchy of belts and levels. Mastery over the different techniques is handled like a diploma course. You study, practise and get a certificate for your trouble.
Rajput returned the following year for another such diploma course, this time in “Taizu Chang Quan” (Emperor Taizu’s long fist) and Shaolin-style swordplay. “Master Shi Yan Lu of the temple accepted me as a 35th Generation Shaolin Temple Warrior Secular Disciple,” he says. He was given a honorary Chinese name—“Shi Heng Chang”, which means “long-term relations”.
In 2009, he was part of an Indian team that bagged seven gold medals at an international wushu meet in Hong Kong. His 80-second swordplay performance, for a score of 8.10, won him an individual medal.
Rajput now divides his time between being coach and official for various junior martial arts events around the country and participating in international tournaments as part of the Indian contingent. He spends about Rs2 lakh a year in travel to tournaments and in training equipment. He trains for an average of 4 hours a day, five days a week—tai chi in the mornings, workouts and drills in the evening. “Weekends I spend exclusively with family, and my one-year-old son,” he says.
Since 2007, when a friend introduced him to executives at production house Sagar Films Ltd, he’s also been doing fight choreography work for Hindi TV serials. “Last year, I also acted in a Gujarati film—Bhule na Bhulay, Sayba Tari Prit.” He plays a college boy who gets involved in, what else, a fight scene.
Rajput dutifully uploads videos of his TV appearances on YouTube—most of them unfortunately have to be taken down on copyright claims. His obsessively updated personal website www.gajanandrajput.com, which describes him as a “shining star”) links to numerous photo albums on Picasa, scanned copies of his award certificates, pages on Orkut and Facebook and contact information on email, chat and blog. “I spend a few hours every day on the Internet, and I’m reasonably Web-savvy,” he says. A wired Shaolin monk sword master who’s also a father of one? Rajput laughs, “I just want to promote this sport and my work in all the ways I can.”