The Only Real Game (2013)
The Only Real Game is a 82 minute Sports documentary by Mirra Bank.
The documentary is a narrative which tells the story of Manipur, a north-eastern Indian state trying to heal itself through the American game of baseball. Manipur has had a long history of conflicts with the Indian army which has resulted in the martial law. This martial law gives Indian army the liberty to arrest anyone who could be a part of the various insurgent groups across the state fighting for independence. Amongst all this, this state is also battling the growing number of HIV patients who get infected through syringes and drug usage. The youth are being given a new life by a baseball group called First Pitch which trains coaches and students. Due to the popularity of baseball many people have benefitted through this program and this has helped the youth to turn away from drugs and start a new life.
The documentary is a narrative which tells the story of Manipur, a north-eastern Indian state trying to heal itself through the American game of baseball.
The introduction throws you into the Indian state with all its beautiful culture, landscapes and people in the start itself. Immediately as the movie begins, for me as an Indian I realized the contrast between the culture in Manipur and the rest of India, why it is a state that wants to separate itself from the country. The fact the parents are letting children do what they want in life, fact that baseball is the local game, lie stark in contrast with the generation of Indians following cricket, and with parents who usually want their children to become engineers/doctors/lawyers. How the women retaliate in Manipur is unlike anything in the other states, where they are oppressed and forced to live in fear. In fact in the rest of India, baseball is almost unheard of – most of the people probably know that it is an American game, most of the educated people I mean. What is amazing to see that this is one place where cricket is not dominating. Being in India and devoting your time to any other sport, even to pursue it professionally is an invitation for being laughed at. Adults will subtlety try and let you know that you have no future, you are going to have to spend a lot of money to get into any national team, and your are going to starve and end up taking menial jobs to support yourself (I know many of my friends, their friend’s friends, and other people who had to give up on their dreams.) Hence it is so refreshing to see that baseball is being played enthusiastically by not only the youth but the old in Manipur. Go Manipur!
There is this raw honestly in the cinematography, journalistic even, the interviewer asked the right questions, which lead the film in a straightforward and convincing way. There is this poignant quality in the interviews, you know when you love something so much and you do whatever you can to continue doing it, the way they talk about baseball stabs you in the heart. Great effort in compiling all the footage from various sources and the research done for this film. Of course the framing, the shots could be more sophisticated, and the lighting could be worked upon, even though this is a documentary, it is also a film, which is a visual representation of the subject matter. A little more effort could have been taken for the look and feel. During the narration and the interviews some of the audio felt unclear. It would have been great if the names of some of the people were also mentioned through texts below, and the sources of the war footage. This film also is a reminder of how knowing a language can really help in bridging gaps in communicating an idea and in knowing the culture. It is shocking to know most of the Manipurians are not able to communicate in English (unlike the situation in other Indian states) and thus denying themselves a whole lot of baseball knowledge through the internet and YouTube.
There is this raw honestly in the cinematography, journalistic even, the interviewer asked the right questions, which lead the film in a straightforward and convincing way.
I would be lying if I say that I didn’t tear up a little at certain parts. It is so nice to see Americans, in spite of the language differences and culture, crossing over to Asia to teach baseball, and the passion everybody shows towards a sport. Wow. I feel ashamed that I wasn’t aware about the on-going martial law scenario, in fact most of the Indians aside from the ones in Manipur have no clue what is going on there. It was heart wrenching to see the people in two minds – who is on the good side or bad? Is the Indian army really in our favour? Does being in India really mean freedom for us? I had no clue HIV was widespread there. I only knew that Bollywood movies were banned there and it was a kpop heaven for Indians (hardly anybody elsewhere even knows about kpop – its only in Manipur that Korean dramas and CDs are popular and sold. Not even TV channels air any of these here) which, now when I think of it, is horrendous and horrifying. How people can just not be aware of what’s going on, how most of the people here are so caught up in the mundane humdrum of life. How much we don’t know. How much the media here doesn’t let us know. This is what a documentary should make us do. Question.
The Only Real Game has won the 2013 Best Documentary at the New York Indian Film Festival and the Sedona International Film Festival’s 2014 American Spirit Award. It is touching to see the Americans and the locals bond over a game. Baseball is to Manipur what football is to Africa, to put it simply. This film is a reminder how sports can be used for humanitarian causes and make people happy. How much something a sport could mean to some people. For the local Indians, having a sport to distract themselves from the turmoil their state goes through, and for the American coaches; doing what you love and changing the world, making it a better place. Isn’t that what life is about? Lovely, lovely film.
This is a documentary whose technical irregularities can be overlooked for the message it delivers.