September 22, 2021

Sweatshops to food delivery, breakdancers with Olympic dreams

THE B-BOYS who will watch their sport become part of the Paris Olympics in 2024…

THE B-BOYS who will watch their sport become part of the Paris Olympics in 2024 don’t go into a funk over lack of facilities. Leaving behind stories of ghetto upbringing and sweatshops, of being spokes in the gig economy of food deliveries, and rising above crime and addiction, they are among the country’s top 16 break dancers for this weekend’s Red Bull BC One in Mumbai — as India begins to identify those who can aim for the Olympics from this crop.

Eshwar Tiwari, aka B-Boy Wildchild, starts as one of the favourites. He remembers those first steps at the BKC Auto Expo in 2013. “I would be called to do flips the whole day while people looked at fancy cars. God knows if anyone even noticed me, but I bought a phone with those earnings of Rs 1,500 a day. Then, I watched YouTube videos and sent Facebook friend requests to all the famous B-Boys to learn from them,” he said.

Wildchild grew up dreaming of the Merchant Navy while nurturing his “superpower skills”. He flunked in Class 9, and was taunted about his dance. Then, the 22-year-old from Andheri came up with his own signature move, “Wild Spin”, where he spins on his wrist. And as soon as it went viral in 2016, he was invited to Taiwan and became a regular on the Asian circuit.

B-Boy Jin, who spearheaded Delhi’s first generation of breakers, grew up in Dakshinpuri, where crime was just outside the doorstep. “There was gundagardi, drug addiction, beatings and brawls, and murders. Some boys I grew up with are now in jail. Some have become local dons,” Jin, 25, who was originally Vivek Nainwal, said.

His family wanted him to become a chartered accountant. When that didn’t take off, they packed him off to an uncle’s food stall as an understudy. He washed utensils for a month. But his mind was in dance and he branched off to become a Cult Fitness trainer. “Busking (B-Boying on the streets where patrons leave money in appreciation) was an option, but the police chase you away, it’s not like Europe where it is respected,” he said.

Perhaps, India’s biggest name is three-time BC One winner Arif Iqbal Chaudhary, famous as Flying Machine, who steered clear of the chaos of his Jogeshwari East locality, where smoking-up, drinking and fights were most common. “I started working in bag-stitching units at the age of 10; I’d cut the pieces and align them. By Class 6, I stopped taking money from home,” the 24-year-old said.

Down south, B-Boy Crazy Bright aka Suryadarshan, 26, from Chennai’s West Mambalam delivered T Nagar Talk, a local eveninger, for two years before he ran away to Bengaluru to focus on dance. “I did odd jobs and even slept at West Mambalam on the platform, spending money only on Odomos because there were so many mosquitoes. Last year, I briefly became a Swiggy employee,” he says.

B-Boy Icon or Suraj from Chandigarh, too, did stints as a Zomato delivery partner during the lockdown, before he qualified for his first national-level Top 16. “Customers can be moody and scream if orders are late. The pandemic year and exhaustion ate into my practice energy, but I was happy to qualify,” the teenager said.

The trip to Famous Studios over the weekend will be memorable for B-Boy Flexagon, Nasiruddin Chaudhary, who was not allowed to leave his home for three years from 2012 to 2015 by his mother. “I lost my elder brother to a violent drug addiction, so my mother got afraid and said I can’t lose you too,” he said. When the 20-year-old eventually took to breaking at Mumbai’s Mankhurd-Govandi, he developed a trippy flexible style, earning the name from his crew.

But the zippiest B-Boy in action will be Tornado, attempting to break what he calls a jinxed dream — of B-Boying abroad. Tornado aka Ramesh Yadav learnt breaking at a slum DJ party in Mankhurd as a boy, but was packed off by the crew when he pestered them to teach him to spin on his head. “But I’d watch them and copy from the other side of the naala (sewage line). Finally, they relented,” he said.

The 23-year-old started out shopping for outfits at Chor Bazaar and working as a Dish TV technician before he became “famous Tornadoji”. “I’d repair their satellite dishes, but I saw the clean terraces as a stage,” he said.

In 2019, he won the Red Bull cypher. “But Mumbai decided to host it, so I couldn’t sit in a plane!” he said. He was scheduled to travel to France in March 2020 — on the day the lockdown came into effect. He continued saving for the elusive foreign trip.

He says when newspapers wrote about his win in 2018, his family “thought I had done some crime”. “That’s my neighborhood. If you get into papers, you are a lost cause. I told them to find an educated person and ask them to read what the news meant!”

Breaking was included in the Olympics programme for Paris in December 2020, and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) is expected to release the qualification structure in the coming months.

The Red Bull BC One, in its sixth edition, is considered India’s prime competition for all these years, and the current best 16 men and four women are expected to compete on Saturday, after an all-digital qualification process last month.

Renowned Breaking All Stars, B-Boy Wing, B-Boy Junior and B-Girl Sarah Bee, will judge the battle format. The winners — one B-Boy and one B-Girl — will travel to the 18th BC One World Final in November at Poland’s Gdansk, where all the top stars are expected to assemble for the sport’s biggest final.