The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball,” are the words of legendary American baseball play- er Babe Ruth. Ironically, the condi- tion that prevailed in Manipur not too long ago is about as real as things can get.
Living with con- cerns like drugs, guns, AIdS and civil war, the Manipuris connect with each other through America’s favourite game — baseball. “This is a movie about hope, joy and a shared passion for the sport of baseball,” starts off Mirra Bank, director of The Only Real Game — a documentary that unveils the life of the people through the eyes of the unlikely sport. When on a cul- tural visit to Manipur, producer Muriel (Mike) peters, a huge fan of baseball, chanced upon the popu- larity of the game there. Quite taken with the craze for this unlikely discipline in a coun- try where cricket is the norm, peters decided to film a documen- tary that focuses on this aspect of the troubled North Eastern state.
Back in India With Bank and a fully-equipped camera crew in tow, peters returned to India to start filming what turned out to be an emotional story of how the Manipuris used base- ball to keep their wits about them amidst the uncertainty of life. The game is played by a majority of the locals with no discrimination in regards to gender or age. There are a total of 15 teams in Imphal alone, of which five are all-girl squads. “What was so compelling to us was the mystery. We had so many questions. For example, how did this happen and why did they start playing it,” Bank says. “Through our research, we found that a few American soldiers were stationed in the state during World War II. And that’s probably how the locals learnt it and passed it on. We were also able to trace two American soldiers, now in their 80s, who remember playing the sport in Manipur,” she continues.
The film, to be screened for the first time in Bangalore this week, won the title of “best documenta- ry” at the 13th New York Indian Film Festival earlier this year. Purpose-driven peters was also instrumental in creating First pitch, an organisa- tion dedicated to helping locals play the best baseball they possibly can. This not-for-profit venture organised a coaching camp that was conducted by Major League Baseball International coaches Jeff Brueggemann and dave palese. The duo trained 31 Manipuri coaches of whom 11 were women.
First pitch has roped in Spalding Baseball, MLBI, The College of New Jersey and Sundaram Tagore Gallery to donate equipment to the baseball-loving Manipuris. November 7.At Bangalore International Centre, Domlur.