Most of us have grown up spending summer vacations playing and jumping walls in our neighbourhood. The joy it brought by being able to do it well and better than your friend was so much that we would take every opportunity to show it off to people around us. Interestingly, this very act of jumping was formally called ‘parkour’, long before any of us knew about it and it only gets better because Mumbai has a community of parkour enthusiasts and the community is growing with every passing day. 

In March, Mumbai Parkour Academy opened a new space in Bandra for parkour. It is their fifth centre in Mumbai including their main one in Andheri, along with South Mumbai, Santacruz and Juhu too. Slowly and steadily, parkour is one of the many ways Mumbaikars have been engaging in fitness activities in the city not only during the summer but other times of the year too. For the uninitiated, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, parkour is defined as the sport of traversing environmental obstacles by running, climbing, or leaping rapidly and efficiently. While it may seem like it is only for children, Aneeta Iyer Bhagat, who is in her early 40s has also joined the bandwagon in the last year.  

Parkour for all ages 
She explains, “After Covid, I was looking for some kind of activity because my son was six years old. At the time, I got to know of it as an activity that is done for physical exercise with balancing. I thought it was gymnastics but then got to know that it wasn`t. We went for a trial and my son loved it.” It`s been three years since, and the Mumbai child loves every moment of it. 

Interestingly, Bhagat`s children do not go to a conventional school and instead go to a Waldorf school called Inodai in Mumbai. “Our parenting is very different. We don`t do screen time every day. They have movie time only once a month. So, they are more into physical activities and playing. So, they really value this, and it really excites them,” she further explains.  

Watching her elder son go about having fun, along with her younger son, she did feel the sport can lead to them getting hurt. However, she looked beyond and also some benefits. “Parkour prepares your body for challenges. It takes away the whole aspect of fear that comes into children at this age. So, it helps unleash that in them to say, `I can overcome that fear` by just attempting because you have your coaches to take care or spot you when you`re going to fall.” Three years hence, the Mumbai loves how her child has benefited from Parkour because of the attitude that has been built up since he took it up while believing that I can experience failure but attempting it is important.

It didn`t take long for Bhagat to also get into it. She explains, “I turned 40 years old in 2022 and wanted to do something really new in that year. I was amazed with what my son was doing, and he had also cleared level 1 and was in his level 2 programme.” Being a mother to two children, and a husband who travels, the Mumbaikar says it was a good start to something. “It is an amazing platform because I`m not a mother, daughter-in-law or wife. I`m just me – Aneeta.” It helped her discover what she likes, dislikes and can do – and the adrenaline rush that followed was irresistible for her since February 2023. 

Such has been her love for the activity, that Bhagat makes sure that she doesn’t miss it in between her daily routine, juggling being a mother, and other physical fitness activities like weight training. She adds, “Even for any social events, I tell my husband that ‘You and the kids go, and I will join you’ll after 9 pm’. So, I would not make any plans so that I can do this. It is simply because when you have the momentum and stop, then to get back becomes difficult.” Interestingly, the Mumbaikar has always been into sports and particularly hockey during her early days before she entered the corporate life. “For me, being active is very important,” shares Bhagat, who got back to having her me-time after she gave birth to her sons. Being a corporate trainer running a company called Benchers along with her husband, it demands her to stand the whole day, and that highlights how much she needs to be fit and with parkour, it only seems ideal. 

In fact, Aneeta isn’t alone as she is joined by others in their late 30s and early 40s, but she loves mixing around with the Gen-Z and the Millennials as there is a camaraderie about pushing each other to do better. Now, her younger son has also joined and even adapted to it faster, says Bhagat. “He started in January and I in February, but his learning curve has been faster compared to my elder son,” adds the 42-year-old, who says her elder son now even teaches her different techniques, making it a bonding exercise for her and the children. 

Parkour passion
Elsewhere, long before Dr Rishi Prasad started Mumbai Movement Academy, he got introduced to Parkour like most 80s and 90s kids. Over the last 14 years that he has been training parkour, he has seen the community grow by leaps and bounds. He explains, “When we were learning parkour, nobody had even heard of it. It just looked like people doing weird stuff on the side of the road. Now people have started recognising it and they ask, ‘Oh, are you doing parkour?’ and they recognise it and appreciate it for the name, rather than us having to explain exactly what it is. The earliest analogy we used to give was, what Akshay Kumar used to do.”  

Today, Prasad is one of the many people actively promoting parkour in the city through the company, which is five years old, and the community often comes together to train and learn from each other. He adds, “Before we started the company, the rest of us were taking classes outdoors under Mumbai parkour for about three years.” Interestingly, when they started out, it was only a community of around eight-10 people doing parkour in the city. Even if there were others, they hadn’t met. However, once they started hosting jams and meetups, they realised how many people were interested in physical activity. Today, he says there are approximately about 800 – 1,000 people strong. 

Prasad has come a long way from the time he started as a child. He explains, “As kids, we used to all do this kind of stuff already, we just didn`t know that we were doing parkour. We did it in a very rudimentary fashion. There wasn`t any technique involved. You see a wall, you climb the wall. You see a tree, you climb the tree.” However, after he started watching videos on YouTube, things changed. “YouTube is my introduction to Parkour by seeing the old French Yamakasi guys, and David Bell, who used to put out their videos,” he adds. After that, Prasad did not look back as he wanted to hone and streamline his training and he found one guy in Mumbai, and that’s where the community started forming. 

But beyond a controlled environment, how equipped is Mumbai to do parkour? He explains, “In terms of being equipped, the discipline’s main purpose is to adapt to the environment. So, it doesn`t matter if the city itself is equipped, we have to equip ourselves to navigate the city we live in.” So, it is as good as any other city. 

However, Prasad is quick to point out that “if you look at it from an aesthetic point of view or the kind of movements that you see being done on the rooftop, then that high-level stuff is very tricky to do in Mumbai because you will get arrested.” It is simply because doing parkour in a metropolitan city like Mumbai is a safety issue and may come off as reckless, especially to people who aren’t aware about it. “Maybe someone who`s got like 20 years of training can do it very safely, but, there`ll also be that one ‘idiot’ who has two days of training, who also tries it,” he adds, especially talking about recording a video for the sake of putting it out on the internet. 

Prasad believes the likes of Jodhpur and Pune and other Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are better suited for making the kind of content that people like to see in parkour; and they have architecture that people can play around with. “That being said, for most of the people who want to simply train powerful and not do the very high-level stuff, our gardens are as good as any,” he adds saying that you can train for parkour all your life. The best way, he believes, is through YouTube tutorials as he recommends Apex Tutorials as his personal favourite but locally even his team is busy trying to put out content about parkour – it is not only stunts but also informative content to educate you about the discipline. 

Over time, they have seen parkour appeal to more people than they would imagine and across age groups. He explains, “Initially, we thought the target audience to be college-going kids and young adults in the age group of 16 to 25 because that is what our age group was at that time. Going forward, I have seen kids between the age group of like 5 to 12 are interested and even working adults above 26 years old are doing it.” While people may not always be able to afford learning at the academies in Mumbai, Prasad says they open their doors once a month to anybody and everybody for a jam, where they can do parkour. Beyond that, they also organise jams outside and encourage more people to join the community, as it is also organised by different groups in the city and even in Pune, which he says has a great community. 

Women in parkour 
Interestingly, Prasad met his wife Krishna, who is a professional dancer through this very community, and it was simply serendipity. She explains, “I got introduced to parkour through Rishi but also got added to a group by mistake by a friend who did parkour. He was trying to add some other Krishna and I got added to the group instead. I went for the classes where he was teaching strength and conditioning but also parkour on the side and that is where I met Rishi.” 
From being someone who hated going to the gym because as a dancer, Krishna says she trained at home, she has now been doing parkour successfully for over seven years now. “I started doing parkour through outdoor classes with the community. I feel it has been the right discipline for me because even as a child, I had way too much energy, and I was always doing parkour in different ways. However, I had this fear as a dancer that I don’t want to do anything that is scary or injured and then I won’t be able to dance but parkour I haven’t got injured.” 

Over the years, she has seen the community grow not only for men but also women. She explains, “Initially, I did not know any other women doing parkour. There were two or three girls in the class doing it but not professionally and there wasn’t even any female parkour coach. Even now, there is no female parkour coach in Mumbai.” While she does teach, the Mumbaikar says she also runs the business with Rishi and doesn’t want to mix the two so that she can focus on smooth operations. 

However, she has seen a shift in the interest towards parkour in the last two years. “When we had the Women’s Day jam, we had 20-25 women who came, and it was wonderful and surprising. I think most women doubt and think it is a men’s sport and also that there are only male instructors and no female instructors, so they don’t have inspiration.” However, she has seen Pune have three female instructors, as they go beyond attending the session to even taking it up professionally. “It will take time because men have bigger jumps, power and explosive strength but that is not the case with women.” Even though it is roughly only 5 per cent of the female-to-male ratio, it is growing due to more people being exposed to videos about the discipline. Such is her love for parkour that Krishna even did a 100 days of Parkour challenge and posted it on Instagram and got so many people who started following her and even posting about parkour too. 

Parkour as a career
Elsewhere in Mumbai, Manmohan Varma has also been doing parkour for a long time now around the same time that Rishi was doing it in the city. However, since the parkour community hadn’t come together just yet, Varma was busy doing his own thing and this was even before he knew the term like most other Mumbaikars and Indians jumping walls in the city. He shares, “I started doing parkour with a lie. At home, I used to say I am going for extra classes but used to bunk and go to the park and do parkour.” Over time, while others were busy engaging on social media, the 28-year-old used to visit the cyber café after saving up his pocket money to watch videos of some parkour greats like French actor David Belle and Englishmen Daniel Llabaca, Ryan Doyle and Chase Armitage in 2012. 

While he started with parkour unofficially, he ended up doing gymnastics professionally for about 10 years participating in state and national competitions, it wasn’t the best experience because of personal reasons but also injuries and the strict rules that come with it. At a time when there was pressure from home to do something with one’s life, it did not take long for him to move towards dancing where he was a part of the Backstage crew and Famous crew too. However, all roads led him back to parkour. One fine day, he met Hardik Negi, Amey Upadhyay, Tej Halshikar and Ankit Dhigan in Kandivali’s Green Park in Thakur Village, and Ram Chettri joined later. With Tej being a mutual friend, it did not take long for them to come together and build a community, and they started Rookie Indian Parkour crew, which happened to be the second crew in Mumbai at the time, and they focused on style. 

It has been 11 years since and today, Varma has made parkour his career. He explains, “It was because of parkour that we sat in a plane for the first time. I bought my first camera and bike because of parkour.” From movies to ad film shoots and even workshops in IIT Powai, Varma has only grown with his crew. “Most recently, I did a small cameo in ‘Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya’ as the parkour robot. We have even done parkour for Monster Energy, Mountain Dew and Roadies too,” adds Manmohan, who says they are also training the Indian Armed Forces. They even conduct sessions at international schools in the city. 

Incidentally, their journey started after Bollywood and Mumbai choreographers Bosco-Caesar saw some of their videos that they used to post online as young college students, and they haven’t looked back ever since. This has helped them not only cement their place but also create awareness about parkour and expose more people to it than before. “Earlier, the orthodox people used to say, ‘Kyan bandar jaise kar rahe ho, aise kyu kare rahe ho, chori karne ki tayaari main ho – all these different kinds of things.’’ But now, that has changed and Verma believes that is the power of parkour. While the number of people that Manmohan and Rishi have trained over time exceeds 1,000, the active participants doing it regularly are roughly about 200 people. 

 The reason for a limited number of people beyond training academies, says Manmohan can be attributed to two reasons. “In Mumbai, the luxury and privilege to practice in a dedicated space isn’t there as much as it is internationally, where there are hundreds of gyms in one location. The second is the lack of awareness about it,” adds Manmohan, while citing the growing popularity of Mallakhamba, a traditional Indian sport. At the same time, he believes there needs to be more authentic influencers who promote the discipline. 
With exposure to the movies and even getting permission from the Indian Army’s Northern Command, they posted videos of the training leading to more people taking it seriously. He adds, “So we understood that we have to simplify and say ‘doing 100 push-ups is what parkour is’. If you can do 100 jumps, you can do one big jump. If you can hang for 30 seconds, then you can start swinging and having fun like a monkey. So we started simplifying it and then giving it into the generic people in a generic manner.”

With an unconventional job that helps him earn a good salary today, Manmohan concludes by stressing, “You can earn from parkour.”

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