A group of parkour athletes and filmmakers have been instructed by police to leave India after upsetting local residents by jumping between the rooftops of buildings in Mumbai.
India Today reports that six of the seven friends were told to take a flight home to London on Wednesday morning after the police received complaints from the residents of buildings in Prabhdevi. The police then ordered their departure for violating the terms of their visas.
Speaking to the Times of India, resident Jayant Nate explained that locals were concerned that children would replicate the stunts. Furthermore, “It was the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and these guys were foreigners, so we panicked.”
With more than three million followers on YouTube and 560,000 followers on Instagram, UK group Storror is one of the foremost parkour teams in the world. The group has a reputation not only for creating impressive physical feats, but also for the high production values seen in their films. Widely acclaimed, their 2017 film Roof Culture Asia documented their explorations of numerous tall buildings in several Asian capitals, and a bigger production is said to be in the pipeline.
Parkour is a discipline whereby practitioners train to navigate obstacles, typically in an urban environment. The vast majority of practice takes place at ground level, but media portrayals inevitably tend to focus on the more spectacular feats performed at height. For the parkour community, this can be frustrating as many groups work hard to promote parkour as a means of encouraging people — especially those with little interest in conventional sports — to enjoy moving their bodies. The athletes and media that sensationalize more dangerous movements risk undermining the perception of parkour, painting it as reckless and antisocial.
Storror had been invited Mumbai to give a talk at the TEDxGateway event on the positive aspects of training parkour. Speaking to India Today, Cyrus Khan, a parkour coach from Mumbai who was at the police station with Storror, explained that the group were in India to promote exercise and health, saying that ”Parkour is a discipline and the group was creating physical fitness awareness.”
Very often in parkour, there exists a contradiction between inspiring people to move and practice safely through feats that are deliberately spectacular. Storror sits at the center of this contradiction.
Parkour community leaders have also raised questions about the colonialist attitudes of some practitioners and filmmakers, whereby Western athletes visit less developed countries and use their relative wealth and social status as a passport to creating media content. It has been argued that the trips to distant locations mean that local people are reduced to being exotic props for the athletic prowess of Western young men.
One of the Storror team members gave this account: “Indian authorities physically restrained us and detained us without arrest for over 15 hours overnight, then deported us, just for doing what we love. We’ve been doing the same thing all over the world for 12 years without a problem. It’s a very sad situation in Mumbai when you don’t have the freedom to practise a sport like parkour at its physical limits without it being a criminal offense.
“Some blame can lie on the media and paparazzi — they had an influence over the police and our situation that was far greater than any of us had expected. But above all that, the police handled us in disgustingly unprofessional and completely incompetent way. There was no legislative process, just a bunch of sour middle aged men bullying young foreigners because they can’t understand how we do what we do.”
Lead image by Andy Day