Jungle Cry tells the remarkable true story of twelve impoverished Indian boys reaching athletic glory in the 2007 Under-14 Rugby World Cup in London. The team came from the Kalinga Institute of Social Science in Odisha, India. They were from broken homes, some orphaned, playing a game they literally started learning months before the tournament. The boys were cobbled together by headstrong coaches who dared them to be great no matter the circumstances. Their journey from distant villages separated by castes, food, and culture to rugby champions reminds that greatness can be achieved from the most unexpected places.
In 2007 Bhubaneswar, India, English rugby coach Paul Walsh (Stewart Wright) gets an eyeful of possibilities on a taxi ride to the Kalinga Institute. He watches as a group of boys chase each other for a jar of marbles. Paul was looking for twelve children to field the Indian national team at the Junior Rugby World Cup. He convinces the school’s founder and headmaster, Dr. Achyuta Samanta; but they have a formidable obstacle in their way.
Rudra Singh (Abhay Deol) was hired by Samanta to teach the boys soccer. This was a tall order in a country devoted to cricket. Singh traveled to astonishingly poor villages recruiting for the school. These were children who worked hard in fields to support their families. Many of them didn’t even have shoes. He promised to change their lives through education and athletics. My heart broke when one of the boys asks if they will get food.
Rudra scoffs at the absurdity of teaching Indian boys rugby. The idea of playing against world-class players abroad in four months was ridiculous. Rudra, a strict taskmaster with iron discipline, wanted to quit the school. The boys did not take kindly to Paul Walsh. They nickname him “Butter Ball” and play silly pranks. Samanta convinces Rudra to stay for the sake of the children. Now he and the boys had to actually learn rugby. They begin an odyssey that took them to heights they never dared to dream.
The Jungle Cats
Jungle Cry refers to a tribal scream the boys adopt after getting destroyed in their first Indian match. They were the Jungle Cats. Rudra had no tolerance for pity or lack of effort. His boys were talented. Ganesh had blinding speed. Bikash, the only English speaker, was a natural leader and named captain. Bariajol, the team’s malcontent, caused trouble but was a beast on the field. Rudra and Paul played to their strengths. The boys were intrinsically tough. They banded together under duress. These admirable qualities were key during the tournament. They played much bigger children who grew up with rugby. It was also 4 degrees celsius in London compared to 40 in Bhubaneswar.
Jungle Cry is told in a quasi-documentary format. The actors narrate the story as the plot progresses. This is done to establish exposition for the coaches and players. Rudra’s fortitude came from a desperate childhood. Raised by an aunt after his mother’s death, a flashback scene shows his seven siblings sharing a bowl of rice. They had nothing to eat. Rudra makes noodles for the boys. They sit in a circle eating together. Everyone knew hunger pains. This simple act affirms their strong bonds.
Director Sagar Ballary smartly ticks several boxes. The overall plot of the boys playing a sport is easily understood. Rugby is not a common sport in many parts of the world. Jungle Cry teaches the audience along with the characters. We watch as the children drill to learn the basics. Paul also shows a cartoon that explains the scoring system. These scenes are fundamental to the third-act tournament. The thrilling games would be nonsensical if viewers didn’t know the rules.
Jungle Cry is an unapologetic feel-good story. It’s a familiar tale but no less important. Dr. Samanta proudly talks of taking the Kalinga Insitute from children huddled in two rooms to sixty thousand students. He leveraged everything the school had to give his students a chance. Who would have thought that Indian village boys could upset the best junior rugby teams in the world? They represent what children can accomplish with the right opportunities, guidance, and love.
Jungle Cry has a mix of Hindi and English dialogue with subtitles. It is a Bollywood Hollywood production from Prashant Shah, Jaswant Singh, Jessica Kaur, and Shabbir Boxwala. Jungle Cry will have a limited theatrical release in the United States by Lionsgate PLAY.
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