Kopal Goyal quit her desk job as a video editor in a large private media network because she wanted to be on the field and work as a photographer or filmmaker.
After completing her graduation in mass communication, advertising, and journalism, Kopal was contemplating what to do next.
Her uncle, who often guided her, persuaded her to give competitive exams a try. While preparing for them, she stumbled upon the achievements of Edurne Pasaban, a Spanish mountaineer who became the first woman to summit all fourteen 8,000 metre mountains in the world in 2010.
Fascinated by her feat, Kopal started researching about women in adventure sport. Her passion for sport was rekindled and she became fascinated by mountaineering. She packed up her bags and enrolled at the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering in Sonamarg, Jammu & Kashmir. It was during her one-month basic mountaineering training that she fell in love with adventure sports. She decided to join the Air Force and become a part of the adventure team. However, she wasn’t able to pass the exam.
When Kopal continued her research in adventure sports, she understood that adventure and extreme sports were very popular and wanted to find out if they happened with the same vigour in India. She connected with a rock climber on Instagram and learnt more about the popularity of the sport.
The struggles of a rock climber
Kopal was in Delhi, continuing her research, when she attended the National Sports Climbing Championship. She had completed mountaineering training and now, she had found her true calling in sports climbing and joined classes for it. She also started taking yoga lessons in the morning to support herself. For almost two years, she immersed herself completely in rock climbing, taking part in zonal and national competitions.
However, her parents were getting worried. "They didn’t think taking yoga classes was an 'honourable' job. They worried about telling others that I was a rock climber."
At 25, Kopal was living alone in the city and following her passion for sports climbing. However, her parents were pressurising her to return home, get married and found her interest in rock climbing “inappropriate”.
The continuous pressure resulted in mental exhaustion, eating and sleeping disorders. All the negativity led Kopal to give up and figure out her next steps.
Project Wild Women
Her internal struggles led her to question if other people, especially women, who were following their passion for adventure sport, were facing similar challenges. She started researching again and found a number of athletes committed to extreme sport.
“I wanted to see if there were women out there who were following their passion in adventure sports and were facing similar issues. Are there more women who want to achieve something unique? Are they facing challenges? If so, how are they tackling them? I wanted answers to all these questions that led me to start my journey of Project Wild Women,” says Kopal.
Project Wild Women is Kopal’s ambitious documentary that documents 14 Indian female athletes from 11 different adventure and alternative sports including ice-climbing, surfing, rock climbing, long boarding and more. The film features athletes from across the country and every extreme sport. From a 16-year-old surfer to a mother in her 30s who kayaks in the waters of Uttarakhand, it features full-time and part-time athletes, their journeys, passion and struggles.
The film has premiered at several national and international film festivals and won many awards and accolades. In 2019, it won the ‘Best Documentary’ award at Kenya International Sports Film Festival. A month ago, it won the ‘People’s Choice' award at the London Mountain Film Festival. It had a special screening at the Kala Ghoda Film Festival in Mumbai.
"Through this film, I also want to give these athletes and the sports an identity. I want to highlight the struggle that adventure sports athletes, especially women, go through,” Kopal adds.
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Kopal started shooting the documentary in 2017 on her own, without any support crew and it took her two years to complete it. She invested her savings from the yoga classes and took up several projects to help fund the film. She travelled across the country to meet the athletes and stayed with them to cut down on food and accommodation costs. However, the money wasn’t enough, and she needed external funding. She started approaching people and began a crowdfunding campaign.
To change people's perceptions about women in extreme sport, Kopal started a website called Inspire Crew to showcase the athletes’ achievements.
After completing the film, Kopal decided to convert Inspire Crew into a full-fledged content platform to bring out stories of women adventure sports athletes to the fore.
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Spreading the message
"The film is about sports and the problems athletes face. But it also reveals the larger problems that exist in society for women. For example, women are always questioned about strength and endurance, their competitiveness, be it on sports field, in their professional careers or other spheres,” says Kopal.
Through the film, Kopal dissects the various intersections of gender and sport and also the patriarchal notions that disrupt women from following their passions.
She wants to take this film to as many people as possible and organise screenings for school children, rural and urban women, and change the perception of people towards unconventional and alternate careers.
Kopal has shifted to Nashik and continues to pursue rock climbing in the outdoors and has also taken up boulder climbing. Through Inspire Crew, she hopes to inspire more women to follow their dreams.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)
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