Mirra Bank is a director and producer and a well-known name in the film and theatre circuit. Her previous feature documentary, Last Dance, was short-listed for an Academy Award. On November 7, Bank screened her film, The Only Real Game, at the BIC Auditorium, in Bangalore. Explocity got an exclusive interview with the filmmaker about her film and her experience in India.
Baseball, the great American game, continues to inspire dreamers in some of the most unlikely places in the world, including India. It comes as a pleasant shock to most Indians, that a defining chunk of American culture lives in Manipur.
In a remote embattled corner of India, a group of enthusiasts 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.
Manipuris were most likely introduced to the American game during World War II when US Army Combat Cargo Corps ‘flew the Hump’ out of local airfields – and played baseball every chance they got.
When film curator Somi Roy and producer Murriel ‘Mike’ Peters visited Roy’s boyhood home after a long absence, they found this threadbare baseball culture thriving in the midst of cricket-mad India. Back in New York City, Roy and Peters 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 (Major League Baseball) sent envoy coaches, Jeff Brueggemann and David Palese, to lead the first, the largest – and now ongoing – baseball clinic in India. Baseball is connecting Manipuris to the world.
Explocity, in an exclusive with Mirra Bank, director of The Only Real Game, tells us about the documentary.
“The Only Real Game explores the power of baseball for people in a remote and troubled place. With wide spread poverty, corruption, and unemployment, it's an astonishing place to find reservoirs of inner strength that are tapped in pursuit of America's national pastime.”
She adds, “It is inspiring that, in this deeply patriarchal society, it is the women that drive the cultural force. The women of Manipur find unity and hope in baseball - as well as a bridge to the wider world. Manipur's women and girls are dedicated and talented players, and are also at the forefront of peace and justice initiatives.”
When Bangalorean Sushma Haksar met producer Murriel ‘Mike’ Peters in New York, the date was set for the screening.
While the film has gone on to win prestigious awards such as Best Documentary in the New York Indian Film Festival 2013, its purpose is deeper.
Explocity spoke to Haksar about getting the film to Bangalore after it had been screened at the Mumbai Film Festival earlier this year.
She tells us, "The film appreciation community in Bangalore is very active. The city has a large demography of people from the North East. It is interesting that they are not aware of the baseball culture in Manipur, therefore, Bangalore matters."
We ask Bank about the inspiration behind the documentary.
“It is the element of mystery, which almost every filmmaker looks for. I got the chance to go deep into people's lives and tell their stories, to shed light on what’s going on in a place that practically, no outsider is aware of.”
Bank tells us about the difficulties she faced while filming the documentary.
“Getting permits was definitely a problem. We were working partly under armed security, yet, we were privileged to captured on film an oddball and affecting leap of faith between people and cultures.”
“Working with handheld HDV (High Definition Video) equipment, tiny American and Manipuri crews – I chose a fluid storytelling style that weaves characters into a compelling narrative.”
Bank concludes, “Baseball – with its high stakes, its emphasis on the individual within the team – tests us all. Following that insight on film, I hope to reveal why an ancient Asian culture fell in love with a come-lately American sport, and why Americans have much to learn from Manipuri grace under pressure.”
“I saw this subject as a gift: follow some brave people, from a largely unknown society, as they assert their identity through the great American game.”
Some information in the article has been sourced from www.onlyrealgamemovie.com