Mumbai's Pro-Kabaddi players are the new stars on TV

A documentary series on U Mumba, the city-based squad in the Pro Kabaddi League and two-time champion, is in the works. The project’s broad theme is how the sport is changing lives, to be shown later on an OTP channel.

U Mumba captain Fazel Atrachali (left) and vice-captain Sandeep Narwal during a shoot for the upcoming PKL documentary series.

U Mumba captain Fazel Atrachali (left) and vice-captain Sandeep Narwal during a shoot for the upcoming PKL documentary series.   -  Special Arrangement

The sport of kabaddi has steadily edged its way into the spotlight, speaking the language of glamour and glitz, besides sending the cash registers ringing.

A documentary series on U Mumba, the city-based squad in the Pro Kabaddi League and two-time champion, is in the works. The project’s broad theme is how the sport is changing lives and is to be telecast later on an OTP channel. From pre-match preparations to how players spend time at home, the documentary covers it all.

Shooting has been on at the NSCI indoor stadium in Worli for over a week now with Mumbai hosting the second leg of the tournament.

The footage includes match action involving U Mumba against other teams, pre-match preparation, and training sessions of the home side. Players representing the side are also shooting videos and images on their cell phones during pre-season home trips and breaks between games. Conversations with close family members and home photos will be woven into the narrative, distilled into a three-hour movie format.

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“The entire U Mumba team is being profiled and the narrators are Fazel Atrachali, Rohit Baliyan and Sandeep Narwal. Abhishek Singh and Arjun Deshwal have also been invited to talk,” said Supratik Sen, CEO.

Defender Atrachali from Iran is the team captain, while the Indian teammates are raiders Baliyan, Singh, Deshwal and all-rounder Narwal. Former players such as Anup Kumar, Rishank Devadiga and Vishal Mane, who played on contract for multiple seasons, will also be included in the series.

Kumar, who is the Puneri Paltan coach, is in the city for the Mumbai leg, as are Devadiga and Mane (representing UP Yoddha and Dabang Delhi respectively).

‘Life-changing sport’

Sen mentions how PKL, promoted by Mashal Sports and telecast live nationwide on prime time, transformed the face of sport. “Pro Kabaddi has been life-changing for most of them (players). We are shooting in all situations, interspersed with personal lives of the players, about how they look at the sport and how their lives changed.”

He adds: “All this while, kabaddi was just a hobby, but now they realise it has changed their lives.”

Besides, their families and neighbourhoods recognise the sportspersons in their midst.

The U Mumba CEO said, “Mr. Baliyan says people in his locality did not know about him, till PKL happened.”

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Baliyan, the U Mumba star raider, said, “People come to us for photographs at the airport and other places. Sometimes, we forget who we are, wonder why people react this way and how we should be responding.”

Live telecast on Star Sports made the kabaddi performers popular, while the monetary package changed the perception of kabaddi being a leisure activity. PKL player auctions, also televised live across the nation, saw teams bidding in lakhs and crores for in-form players who turned news makers overnight, having featured on their respective teams’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Sen explains how this is now a lucrative sport to be in: “If you get a bank job, you start at ₹5 lakh annually and it goes up. In sport, players are getting more at the start. In five years, you can earn a few crores, secure your life for what you wish to do next. We don’t even know what that number would be in five years.”

Maharashtra player Siddharth Desai’s bid value, for instance, rose from ₹30 lakh to ₹1.45 crore (paid by Telugu Titans to secure his services for the 2019 season) after a sensational 2018 debut with U Mumba.

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PKL’s highest paid foreigner, Atrachali, was retained by the Mumbai franchise for ₹1.11 crore (an increase from ₹1 crore that U Mumba paid at the player auction in the previous season).

Narwal was valued at ₹89 lakh, while Baliyan was valued at ₹35 lakh.

The two will be among many to be featured in the documentary series, to be produced by Sanaya Irani Zohrabi and directed by Kunal Kochhar. Zohrabi has worked on several documentary series at BBC London, while Mr. Kochhar directed sports documentaries this year. At least 100 hours of footage has already been recorded.

The U Mumba family

The U Mumba kabaddi team is owned by Ronnie Screwvala of U Sports. The company has also invested in building squads across sports such as volleyball, table tennis, football and online gaming.

The documentary series will feature U Mumba players in professional leagues such as the PKL, Pro Volleyball and Ultimate Table Tennis.

Sen said, “We are shooting UTT at the same time, and will soon shoot volleyball. Football will be done when it goes to the next level. At the moment, kabaddi is the biggest profile. Our journey began with Pro Kabaddi.”

U Mumba qualified for the final in the first PKL season (2014), finishing second, behind Jaipur Pink Panthers. After emerging PKL champion in 2015, Mumba qualified for the final again in 2016 and ended second behind Patna Pirates.