LLANELLI’S Ffwrnes Theatre opened its door to film stars and sports stars alike on Tuesday (Mar 10) as they walked the red carpet for the glitzy premiere of the new Bollywood movie ‘Jungle Cry’ – a film that was partly shot in Llanelli’s own Parc y Scarlets.
Hundreds of people flocked to the theatre for the film’s screening, from local councillors, to Indian/Welsh talent, to actual Hollywood personalities – with Mean Massoud (star of Disney’s Aladdin 2019) also in attendance. All came to watch a movie inspired by the amazing true story of a group of tribal orphan boys who formed a rugby team and took the sporting world by storm.
The story of ‘Jungle Cry’ is a long and interesting one, one that begun back in 2007 when Indian football coach, Rudra Jena and English Rugby Coach, Paul Walsh, took 12 underprivileged and orphaned boys and made them into a victorious rugby team. The same rugby team that would eventually go on and win the 2007 Junior World Cup, forever solidifying themselves in sporting history. But this heart-warming story is not the only interesting thing about this film – oh no, in fact the movie’s conception should also be remarked upon for its bringing together of two countries and its message of cultural unity.
The film was produced by Prashant Shah, who found himself enamoured by the story of the Indian rugby team and the struggles they had to overcome, citing the story as the perfect candidate for a cinematic adaptation. During the screening of the film, Shah spoke of how the project had brought him to London, where he intended to learn more about rugby and its origins. It was there that he discovered rugby’s roots in welsh culture, leading him to meet Jon Daniels, the Scarlets General Manager. Through this interaction, Shah found a loyal business partner, one also dedicated to telling this story and bringing it to life on the big screen. The sense of cultural unity that surrounds this film is strong, and in many ways it is just as inspiring as the story being told within the movie. In our modern society where nothing seems certain, and where race relations seem to be weaker than ever, it is a joy to see two different cultures coming together through a shared love of both rugby and the message it promotes. As Daniels himself said at the event, ‘Rugby is a sport that promotes adversity and team work’ – themes that are at the core of the film’s story, but also at the heart of its production.
But what of the film itself? Well there is no mistaking the emotion that went into it, for every shot of the film bleeds with unbridled passion, the passion of a people who deeply cared about the story they wanted to tell. The shots of the Indian landscape are beautiful and vibrant, while the shots of London are cold and grey – displaying just how foreign England was to the Indian team, who had never travelled beyond the borders of their country before. Of course this was a small film project overall and sometimes the lack of budget can be seen through the clunky editing and mediocre score, but all this can be overlooked when it comes to how the film chooses to format and structure its wonderful story.
One of the most interesting elements of the film is how it does not really focus on any of the young team members, instead splintering the narrative between the perspectives of the four devoted people, who loved and supported the boys throughout their various hardships. First have the perspective of Rudra Jena (played by Abhat Deol) the Indian football coach who dedicated his entire life to teaching underprivileged orphans, only to give it all up in favour of teaching a sport that was completely alien to both him and his students. In the role of Rudra, Deol gives a beautifully strong performance, one that straddles the line between beloved surrogate father and domineering patriarch. You understand that he deeply cares for the boys on his team, and yet he won’t allow his emotions cloud their performance of their shot at success. The second perspective takes the form of Roshni Thakkar (played by Emily Shah), the team medic who supported the boys during their time in England.
In many ways Shah’s Roshni acts as the king to Rudra’s yang, as she allows the boys to enjoy their time in Britain, demonstrating an almost sisterly adoration for every member of the team. Roshni as a character is brought to life through Shah’s electric performance, with the actress injecting the character with a fierce tenacity that makes her almost immediately likeable. Shah was one of the few actors who attended the premiere of Tuesday night, looking stunning in a glittering rose gold gown. During his introductory speech, Prashant Shah stated that Emily joined the project upon reading the script, citing the inspirational message of the story as her main draw. The third perspective we follow is that of Paul Walsh (played by British actor, Stewart Wright) the English rugby coach who went to India with only a bag of rugby balls and a dream.
In his role as Walsh, Wright shines in both his comedic timing and his subtle emotional beats. Although the character bumbles onto the screen in the form of a loveable idiot, Wright’s performance demonstrates both a relatable empathy and an admiration for the real Paul Walsh, who also attended the film’s premier, dressed in traditional Indian garb. The final perspective is of Dr Samanta, the man who spent his life educating impoverished young men, supporting them when no one else would. As a character, Samanta plays the role of the wise care-giver, providing the money and documents needed for the boys to go to London and follow their dream. Although Samanta as a character is given very little to do in the film, the real-life Samanta should be commended for his incredible work, helping and providing shelter to all those in need.
By telling this story in the past tense, and through the eyes of these specific characters, the film takes a small idea and reconstructs it into something complex, narratively layered and cleverly executed. Shah himself stated that the film was a small project, made on a small budget, and yet through this film he was able to demonstrate just how far a small idea can go when you are backed by a team of passionate and creative people.
But how has this inspirational story been received by the welsh public? Well so far it seems that the film has gained nothing but praise from the local community. Sharen Davies, of the Llanelli Rural Council, said that she found the film ‘truly inspirational’. While County Councillor, David Jenkins, said that he found the characters ‘relatable’ due to their love of rugby; going on to say that, ‘the achievements of those young men, given their background, is really admirable and inspiring.’
So far it seems that Prashant Shah was right to bring this story to cinematic life, as it is a story that will now continue to warm the hearts of film audiences from now until the foreseeable future. A film birthed from the union of the East and the West, a union formed over a love of rugby and the endearing message and values that the sport continues to uphold.
Coincidentally, the premiere also happened to coincide with the Hindu festival of colour, otherwise known as Holi. At the premiere Shah was keen to wish us all in the audience a happy Holi, and I’m sure he would like us to extend that message to all of our readers as well.
Happy Holi everyone!