Sons of the Soil: Jaipur Pink Panthers is an unscripted documentary series following the Abhishek Bachchan-owned Jaipur Pink Panthers in the 2019 season of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL).
Emotion versus business
Earlier this year, Amazon Prime Video gave us The Test, a ten-part docuseries surrounding the Australian cricket team and their endeavour to regain respectability after the infamous Sandpapergate controversy that rocked cricket in 2018. We see a team that is low on confidence and morale undertake a long road to redemption, which ends with them winning The Ashes the following year.
Sons of the Soil begins in similar fashion. The Jaipur Pink Panthers won the inaugural PKL season five years ago, we’re told, but their fortunes have gone downhill since then. They’re now back with a young and ambitious squad that is raring to go. However, halfway into the series one realises that this isn’t a tale about rising from the ashes. Sons of the Soil aims to provide a window into the behind-the-scenes dynamics of a professional sports team, focusing more on the human side of it. In fact, the makers don’t really dwell on the nitty-gritties of the game. While we do get scintillating visuals of kabaddi, the show doesn’t get into the rules or the language of the game. This isn’t a bad thing for it makes the show interesting even for those who aren’t kabaddi enthusiasts. The makers choose to focus on the one thing that is constant for every sport – emotion, which is on abundant display throughout the series. We follow a passionate unit as it goes through highs and lows in the season. There’s joy in victory, and frustration and agony in defeat. A string of losses surfaces infighting, blame games and breakdowns.
Abhishek Bachchan as the team owner is affable, while displaying a never-seen-before competitive streak. He is visibly emotionally invested in this team, and enjoys adulation from his players. However, sentiments aside, he stresses that there is also a business end to things that cannot be ignored. If the desired results aren’t achieved, difficult decisions need to be made. While Bachchan largely takes a soft approach while dealing with the staff and players, his friend and partner Bunty Walia is often abrasive.
Stories within the story
Fittingly titled Sons of the Soil, the series traces the humble beginnings of some of the players, most of whom hail from Haryana, the heartland of kabaddi in the country. The commercialisation of the sport with the start of the Pro Kabaddi League has provided them with opportunities and financial security that they couldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago. Kabaddi may be small fry compared to cricket in this country as far as raking in the big bucks is concerned, but it has changed the lives of the players.
At the same time, the commercialisation of the sport has put greater pressure on the players and the staff to perform. Srinivas Reddy is the young, firebrand coach of the Panthers, and has his task cut out after a couple of underwhelming previous seasons. There are times when the players find his confrontational style uncomfortable. Then there’s Deepak Niwas Hooda, superstar, captain and the most expensive player in the side. His price tag looms over his head as he struggles with the pressure of expectation. Nilesh Salunkhe, a veteran in the PKL, who has been around since its inception, deals with the disappointment of being left out of the team’s starting line-up.
The competition weighs heavily on Bachchan too. It’s fair to say his acting career never reached the heights that everyone expected it to, and he often finds mention in the nepotism debate that’s been raging for a while now. Abhishek has never denied his privilege and has always been humble about it. But it seems as though the burden that comes with his illustrious family name has weighed him down. The Jaipur Pink Panthers is his baby, and in their success he finds a personal sense of accomplishment. “I know what it is to live under a shadow”, he says while sympathising with one of his players who comes from a rich lineage of kabaddi players.
WATCH OR NOT
Sons of the Soil is an earnest attempt to provide insight into the working a professional sports team and the pressures that come with it. It does well to highlight the vulnerable and more human side of sportsmen. There is a genuineness about the emotions on display. Not to mention the series serves as an excellent advertisement for the sport.
Directors: Alex Gale, Omkar Potdar
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Srinivas Reddy, Deepak Niwas Hooda, Nilesh Salunkhe, Bunty Walia
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video