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Jungle Cry Review: Abhay Deol Starrer Sports Drama Misses Target By A Mile

The sports drama genre has become quite populated in India in recent years. For years, Indian filmmakers steered clear of sports films. But the last decade or so has made up for it by producing more underdog stories from the field of esports. But that means films now have to work hard to stand out from the crowd. This is where Abhay Deol’s latest release, Jungle Cry, fails. Based on the true story of a group of tribal boys who won the Under-14 Rugby World Cup, the film uses the usual tropes and ends up being more predictable than exciting. Also read: Abhay Deol Says He Was Gassed For Being Himself: ‘Directors Berated Me In Public And Spread Lies About Me’

Directed by Sagar Ballary, Jungle Cry follows an English rugby coach who came to India in the mid-2000s to look for boys to train in the sport and took them to London for the 2007 U14 Rugby World Cup. He found his players in Odisha’s (then Orissa) Kalinga Institute; But the catch is that the kids don’t even know the sport. They play football; and her soccer coach Rudra (Abhay Deol) isn’t too keen on the idea either. Jungle Cry is the story of how in four months these young tribal children not only learn a new sport but go to the UK and beat the best young rugby players in the world. Unfortunately, when the real Jungle Cats won the cup, they didn’t get the press coverage such a win deserved. The film, as Abhay Deol said when promoting it, “sets out to correct some mistakes”.

Speaking to Hindustan Times during the film’s promotion, Abhay discussed what sets Jungle Cry apart from other underdog sports dramas. “Sports first! It’s about rugby. Who Plays Rugby in India? Definitely a niche sport,” he said. It’s an honest answer, but quite limited. Aside from being about rugby, there really isn’t much that’s new or new in Jungle Cry. The film follows the same tropes, the same formulas that several have used before it, and far more effectively than this one.

At the heart of any compelling sports film or underdog story is the drama. It drives the narrative forward. But despite being a story about tribal boys playing rugby against the big boys, Jungle Cry lacks that drama. It’s hard not to make comparisons to similar movies like Jhund or Chak De! India. Both used the tropes and added drama and suspense off the field quite effectively. But in Jungle Cry, the obstacles these guys face seem to evaporate pretty quickly. At no point do you feel that you are being challenged or faced with insurmountable difficulties. Everything happens very smoothly. Because of this, we never feel fully invested in their supposed uphill battle.

The film follows a mockumentary style in which the trainers are interviewed about the incident “in the present”. Her voice-overs and narration follow and dominate the narrative. And that’s the film’s biggest flaw. At no point does the director trust the audience to follow what is happening on the screen. The character always has to tell the audience what’s happening, what they’re feeling and everything else.

Try this: In a scene where Abhay’s character worries about the boys’ ability to win, the voiceover talks about his strained relationship with his own father and how he needs to break this cycle of distrust. The film really doesn’t try to convey anything without words. It is said that narration is often a quick fix for gaps in narrative. Well, if your film is half narration and voice-over, that says a lot about the narration.

Abhay Deol in a still from Jungle Cry.
Abhay Deol in a still from Jungle Cry.

Abhay Deol is good, but it’s nothing he hasn’t done before. The actor appears very much in his comfort zone throughout the film. Debutante Emily Shah as the team’s physical therapist does her part well, but her character is introduced so late in the film that she has little time to establish herself. The boys the film is about are one dimensional. There are no distinguishing features, no backstories that tell us anything about their motivations or personalities. It’s unfair to judge her acting skills from such poorly written roles.

I wish I could call Jungle Cry old wine in a new bottle. It’s actually old wine in an older bottle that has been reused far too many times by now. Unlike wine, cinematic narrative tropes don’t get better with age. Jungle Cry will stream on Lionsgate Play starting June 3rd. Only watch it if you have nothing else to see. Although you should hardly find time for it on a weekend so packed with releases.

Movie: jungle scream

Director: Sagar Ballary

Pour: Abhay Deol, Emily Shah, Steve Aldis, Atul Kumar, Rhys Ap William, Sherry Baines

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