Can Major League Dreams Defy Martial Law?
Winner of Best Documentary at NYIFF and now officially selected by MAMI Film Festival (MIFF), The Only Real Game is about baseball, the great American game which continues to inspire dreamers in some of the most unlikely places in the world.
It is about Manipur, a lush hill state in the north eastern part of India that shares a porous border with Burma and the Golden Triangle.
This Southeastern Himalayan state of India lies on the Burmese border near the Golden Triangle. The size of New Jersey, it is one of India’s poorest states in the isolated Northeastern region. Manipuris are ethnically Tibeto-Burman and number about 1.5 million.
Renowned for its performers and athletes, it is the birthplace of polo and its warrior culture has produced five forms of martial arts. Manipuris excel in modern sports and athletics. A dozen Olympian athletes, the stars of almost every major soccer team in India, the 2006 Women’s World Boxing Champion, and India’s top swimmer (who trained without a swimming pool) are some of the outstanding athletes who hail from this small mountain state.
In 2007, the great and gracious Hank Aaron congratulated Barry Bonds for smashing his home run record, reminding the new champ – and all of us – that baseball inspires people to chase their dreams.
It is believed that Manipuris were most likely introduced to the Great American Game during World War II when US Army Combat Cargo Corps troops “flew the Hump” out of local airfields – and played baseball every chance they got. But what drew Manipuris to baseball? Who taught them?
Film curator Somi Roy and producer “Mike” Peters visited Mr. Roy’s boyhood home in Manipur after a span of almost two generations, they found this threadbare baseball culture thriving in the midst of cricket-mad India. So, they founded First Pitch which reached out to help, establishing both baseball and film initiatives.
Through their efforts, Spalding Baseball donated hundreds of mitts and balls and MLB sent Envoy coaches Jeff Brueggemann and David Palese to lead the first, the largest – and now ongoing – baseball clinic in India.
Its popularity not as rapidly growing as envisaged, one positive aspect of this initiative is that Baseball is connecting
Manipuris to the world. A first exchange took place last September, with NYC’s great inner city youth program – Harlem RBI – and plans are in the works for more.
Violence, poverty, arms and heroin trafficking have isolated Manipur.
Each dawn brings in a sense of insecurity in this strife torn state where some one is either shot, or others are lost to heroin addiction.
Despite such conditions Manipuris maintain a rich connection to their culture, which includes baseball. Baseball offers hope, joy, and a coherent purpose that counters negative forces all around.
The director ought to be congratulated having selected this subject, where she informed the media that working partly under armed security, they have captured on film an affecting leap of faith between people and cultures.
It is commendable on Mirra Bank’s part to visit this disturbed North Eastern State of India or rather a remote embattled corner of India where a gritty, gung-ho baseball community, who carve their own bats and play whole seasons sharing two or three paper-thin mitts, pursue the game with a purity of purpose – a passion – the rest of us perhaps can only dream of.
This film is a dedication to the spirit and positive attitude of Manipuris – depicted in one of the concluding shots of urban Manipur on the heavily laden bullock cart, where the poor animal almost collapses on the road, beneath the heap of bamboos.
It struggles, and further struggles and then finally succeeds in pulling the heavy burden on its own.
A symbolic representation of a day in life of a Manipuri. Our brothers and sisters Manipuris…..
– Paresh B. Mehta
Characters featured in this Documentary:
JEFF BRUEGGEMANN – MLB Envoy Coach
DAVE PALESE – MLB Envoy Coach
BHANU, PUPU, Devika, Bame – Imphal Coach
Lalit – Catcher
Geet – Local First Pitch Coordinator
Imashi – Cultural Leader
Credits & Crew:
Produced by Richard Brockman, Mirra Bank, Muriel ‘Mike’ Peters, Liane Valentino
Directed by Mirra Bank
Narrated by Melissa Leo
Project Consultant, Special Manipuri Liaison – L. SOMI ROY
Director of Photography – AXEL BAUMANN
Manipur 2nd Unit Director – DAVE THOUDAM
Manipur 2nd Unit DOP – DAVE THOUDAM
Film Editors – PAMELA SCOTT ARNOLD, MAXWELL ANDERSON
Additional Editing – ADAM ZUCKER
Music Composer – PAUL BRILL
Music Consultant – ZEYBA RAHMAN
Special Production Consultant – UDAY JHUNJHUWALA