Baseball may be best known as America’s pastime, but a new documentary explores the sport’s long history in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.
According to Mirra Bank, the director of the new documentary “The Only Real Game,” Manipuris were first introduced to the game by the American soldiers who flew out of region during the Second World War. The game has continued to thrive despite the separatist conflict and drug trafficking problems that have plagued the region for decades.
“When we found out that there was a passionate baseball community, and not just a passionate community, but one that equally involved women and girls, I just said ‘this is a movie,'” said Blank. The film’s title is a reference to Babe Ruth’s calling baseball “The only real game in the world.”
The idea for the film was born when producers Somi Roy and Mike Peters visited Manipur and discovered that the locals were playing baseball rather than cricket. Roy and Peters then founded the organization “First Pitch” when they returned to the States, and partnered with Major League Baseball and Spalding to supply the group with visiting coaches and equipment.
Blank says that she was particularly drawn to the fact that many of the best players she met during filming were women. Featured prominently in the film is Bhanu, a woman known as the best baseball player in the state. “She is sort of legendary as the godmother of baseball in Manipur,” said Bank.
“The women are a lot of the engine that drive the coaching,” Bank explained. “They work very hard to get the children involved in baseball as a way to have a great, healthy, disciplined positive experience.”
“The Only Real Game” is debuting today as part of the New York Indian Film Festival. Screenings are at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Tribeca Cinemas (54 Varick Street) and will be followed by a discussion with director Mirra Bank. To see a full schedule of festival events or to purchase tickets, please visit the NYIFF’s official site.