‘Maidaan’ True Story, Explained: Who Was Syed Abdul Rahim In Real-Life?


The game of football had never been the Indian team’s strong suit, and up until today, we haven’t been able to make a name for ourselves in the international arena. But Maidaan, directed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma, showed us that it was not always like that, and there was a time when the Indian team gave tough competition to nations like South Korea. Now, it is truly depicted in Maidaan that there were only a few Indian states where football was such a popular sport. West Bengal had the most prominent football clubs, and most of the well-known players who had gained popularity in the domestic circuit were from there. But the coach of the Indian football team knew that if he had to make a good team, he would have to go outside Bengal and look for talent in various cities.

The character of Syed Abdul Rahim is based on a real-life person, and though some creative liberties might have been taken by the makers, the essence has been kept intact. In the film, the Indian Football Federation is shown as the antagonist, and Shubhankar Sengupta, one of the members, tries to prove Coach Rahim wrong at every level. We don’t know if Coach Rahim faced such conflicts in real life, too, but it is very evident that characters like Mr. Roy and Shubhankar Sen were created to dramatize the narrative and it is quite possible that a chunk of those conflicts were fictionalized. What’s true is that Coach Rahim actually went to Secunderabad and selected a player whom he saw playing in the local leagues. That player’s name was Tulsidas Balaram, and Coach Rahim had to bear a lot of criticism for choosing him to be a part of the Indian team. Now, there were many experienced players playing for renowned clubs in Bengal, but Rahim picked up a guy who had no exposure whatsoever to big tournaments.

Coach Rahim had made it very clear that if the burden of failure was going to fall on his shoulders, then he should be given complete autonomy in selecting the players who were going to play for India. It was called the golden era of Indian football for a reason: team India was not only performing extremely well in the Asian games and bilateral series but also putting up good competition in the Olympics and various other international events. Syed Abdul Rahim introduced many tactics that had not been seen by the world before. The people around him didn’t trust him at first, but when his ways and means started showing results, they had no option but to accept his modus operandi. It is true that experts called India the “Brazil of Asia” under the leadership of coach Rahim. It felt like the future of Indian football was quite bright, and Coach Rahim, together with players like Peter Thangraj, Jarnail Singh, Chuni Goswami, etc., had laid a strong foundation that would help the future generation. Unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened after Coach Rahim left the scene, and Indian football could never reach the pinnacle that it once did. As fictional as it might sound, it is absolutely true that India beat South Korea to win the gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games organized in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was a dream come true for a team that wasn’t even given shoes a few years ago and whom nobody trusted.

It is absolutely true that the Indian team was not supposed to participate in the Asian games, as finance minister Morarji Desai had clearly stated that the country was going through a financial crisis and there was no money to spare for the players. Mr. GD Sondhi, in real life too, criticized the Indonesian government for not letting Israel and Taiwan be part of the Asian Games, and that caused a lot of anger among the Indonesian people. In almost every match, the natives came with black art, and the Indian team was forced to play in extremely hostile conditions. But the team, led by Chuni Goswami, defied the odds and proved to the world what hard work and determination could do. They did it for their coach, who had been relentless in his approach and who had made sure that the team was allowed to participate in the Asian games. They did it to prove it to all those who didn’t have faith in their abilities. They also did it for that small child sitting in front of his radio and getting inspired to play for the Indian football team in the future. 

On June 11, 1963, Syed Abdul Rahim succumbed to his illness, which ended the golden era of Indian football. He was suffering from cancer, as shown in the film, and it is quite probable that the diagnosis came before he left for the Asian Games, where India won a gold medal. After coach Rahim’s demise, India could never really make it big in the international arena, and till now, it is a dream of every football lover to see their team repeat the feat they achieved in the 1962 Asian Games.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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