Published: 12th May 2021
This docu chronicles the first-ever U-23 Indian Ultimate Frisbee team's journey from playing in alleys to London
Have you heard of the sport ultimate frisbee? These participants made it their passion. Some of the first ones to qualify for the championships and their stories have been captured in the documentary
For the strength of the pack is the wolf,
and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Little would English author Rudyard Kipling have imagined that the above lines from his poem The Law for the Wolves, which is sometimes also referred to as The Law of the Jungle and rightly so, would be used to boost the morale of the first Under-23 Indian Ultimate Frisbee team to participate in the World Ultimate and Guts Championships. What's more, the poem has also gone on to inspire the name of the sports documentary based on the same team titled, Strength of the Pack.
On the filed | (Pic: Strength of the Pack)
But first, let's talk about ultimate frisbee. You know how they say playing a sport equips you with various life skills, right? Well, then consider ultimate frisbee a crash course on life itself. This can be attributed to the fact that it's a mixed-gender, non-contact sport with no referee! The latter has serious implications — imagine six hot-blooded players being on an adrenaline-high must be both the judge and jury when it comes to fair play. "The sport itself is a microcosm of life," says Varsha aptly, ultimate frisbee coach, facilitator and a lot more. Varsha who? Hold on, we will introduce her to you shortly.
Ultimate frisbee is not recognised by India yet and the Ultimate Players Association of India (UPAI) is working hard for it
It's all about the grit
Here's another thing, the first Indian team to participate in the World Ultimate and Guts Championships was back in 2015. So why are we so passionately talking about it half a decade later? Because the little over one-hour-long documentary was released only on March 8, 2021. And it was by releasing Strength of the Pack that three entities, namely, the Embassy of India Student Hub in collaboration with Ultimate Players Association of India (UPAI) and Ultimate Australia chose to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021. Well, for Varsha Yeshwant Kumar, the director of the documentary, there seriously couldn't be a better way to celebrate the day. Plus, it fit perfectly with the theme which was Determination and Grit: Indian Women in Sports.
Let the flag fly high | (Pic: Strength of the Pack)
Varsha takes us right back to 2015 when the community playing ultimate frisbee was much smaller than it is today though no less when it comes to passion. The 34-year-old was a committed player with an academic and professional background in photojournalism and also happened to have the front seat to all the developments happening with regards to the sport in India. Chennai-based UPAI was combing the country to find committed players to put together a team that will represent India for the first time. "Even before the team was selected, I knew I was going to make the film and since we were a small community and knew each other, I had all-access," shares the youngster who pursued her MS in Photojournalism from Boston University.
Zahra Kheraluwala was the captain of the Indian team that went to the championship. She proved to be a strong leader and female captain that they are all very proud of
Just sit back, watch and learn
Unscripted, raw and emotional is how we would define the journey the sports documentary will take you on. A part of it is dedicated to one-on-one interviews with the players who speak seven different languages, come from various different backgrounds and it is clear that what unites them is the sport. One female participant speaks about her introverted nature and how she has never traveled anywhere while another one is just proud of wearing a T-shirt that will say 'India' in big, bold and proud letters. There are lighter moments where participants go footloose or just monkey around.
Group picture taken in Chennai | (Pic: Strength of the Pack)
The most heartbreaking moment comes when all their UK visas are outright rejected. "The fact that after all the blood, sweat and tears they had poured in, the fact that they might not even be able to make it to London to play was gut-wrenching. And some of them did not even understand the concept of passports," says Varsha, who has worked with media organisations and acclaimed director Mani Ratnam's Madras Talkies in the past. But they reapplied, surmounted this problem as well, which took the team, and Varsha who was chaperoning them, to London. You will also see glimpses of the championship matches like the one played against Ireland, which makes for nail-biting-watch. What became a beautiful reflection of unity in diversity, which is the strength of both our country and this team, the participants win the Spirit Award at the championship for the way they held together as a team and how they held other teams with respect and reverence too.
All this produced a massive 2TB of rushes which was cut down to a four-hour-long film and went on to be further shortened to what it is today. Can you blame Varsha for taking so long to actually put it out there for us to watch?
It was in 1984 that American Walter Frederick Morrison invented frisbee. Before that, he and his wife would play with upside-down cake pans
There are other tasks
Another reason why the sports documentary was on the back burner for a while was that Varsha was busy co-founding One All Trust, a Chennai and Gudalur-based organisation that started in 2016. We have already established a life-affirming sport ultimate frisbee can be. The trust takes it one step higher introducing the sport to at-risk or underprivileged teenagers so that they can learn to appreciate life as well. Among all the good work that this organisation does is run at-school and after-school values education programmes for over 460 government school students of Doomingkuppam and Srinivasapuram, fishing communities of Chennai. They have taken the sport to the Adivasi community of Gudalur as well, wherein, four Adivasi teachers run the curriculum in two schools.
Lighter moments in London | (Pic: Strength of the Pack)
"One of the most important rules of this sport is that there is nothing you should do to hinder the basic joy of playing for yourself or anybody else which teaches us to live and let live. Then there is the self-referee aspect. If someone calls you out because of a foul, you need to be polite and firm enough to show them why you think you were not in the wrong. It teaches you negotiation skills and opens up different perspectives," explains Varsha. Indeed, the more you deep-dive into the sport, the more you realise that in life as well as ultimate frisbee, you abide by pretty much the same rules.
Hear it from them
We are grateful for the opportunity to tell the inspiring story of our young athletes through the lens of Varsha, one of our own, a strong role model for aspiring girls in India
Megna Shankaranarayanan, President, UPAI
Being under the age of 23 meant India were developing their leaders for the future. And being a mixed team meant that women were provided the same opportunities at the elite level as men, from the outset
Dan Rule, Coach, Under-23 India Team
Through every single match they played, the team supported each other, like a family. They weren't only in it to win it, but they also wanted to be the best version of themselves they could be, together
Varsha Yeshwant Kumar, Coach and facilitator
Ultimate frisbee rules to abide by:
- Ultimate frisbee is played on a 100 x 37 metre field
- The first team to score 15 points wins the game
- Each team tries to advance the disc towards the end zone
- Points are scored by throwing the frisbee in the end zone
- You can't hold the disc for more than ten seconds
Watch the documentary here one-all.in/media