In the face of daunting odds of gender, geography and living under the gun, women and girls are the power players in my new documentary – The Only Real Game.
This is the first nonfiction feature for a world audience made in Manipur, a strife torn corner of India that borders on Myanmar. Manipur has essentially been closed to outsiders since 1958. At that time India declared this restive, once princely, and ancient state a ‘disturbed area,’ and placed it under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which means military occupation. Women have suffered most under this situation, and have risen most dramatically to the challenge.
The unlikely hook that got me to Manipur was the fact that this all but forgotten corner of India has a surprising passion for our National Pastime – baseball. The sport that Babe Ruth called, The Only Real Game in the world.
This piece of the puzzle fell into place when I found and filmed two American WWII vets who were among the courageous — very young — men who served in Northeast India in 1944-45. At that time US and British troops turned back the Japanese, who had cut off the Burma Road, and were poised to invade India and the rest of Asia. Americans stationed in Manipur ‘flew the Hump’ (the Himalayan ranges that separate India from China) to supply the Chinese allies and to take out wounded men and prisoners. When fliers weren’t in the air they stripped down to combat boots and shorts and played baseball on the tarmacs of hastily built airfields carved out of the Indian jungles, as local kids looked on. This long forgotten connection between our two cultures comes to light in The Only Real Game.
The larger story is about the way baseball NOW provides a sense of hope, cohesion and joy to people who are living in a heavily armed conflict zone. The most dedicated — and talented — players, as well as the ones who keep the game alive despite daunting odds — are Manipur’s women and girls. They are at the forefront of peace and justice initiatives as well, in this state plagued by political corruption, poverty, guns, drugs, and HIV/AIDs.
People have asked what surprised me in the course of making this film. My answer: Everything. We had to improvise every day, dealing with an armed insurgency and military occupation, travel restrictions, lack of electricity and internet, curfews, medical emergencies and often unreliable communication. Although production in Manipur proved exhausting and often stressful, it was deeply rewarding. I’ve remained close to my Manipuri crew and colleagues over a number of filming trips and the several years it’s taken to complete the film.
Now that The Only Real Game is having its festival debut in the NY Indian Film Festival — we are nominated for Best Documentary — my great hope is that we will bring Manipur to the attention of the world via the documentary, then bring the film back to Manipur to celebrate the spirit of this resourceful community — especially its tough and talented women.
The Only Real Game festival premiere is May 1st at the Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street at 4PM and 6PM screenings and Q+Asat the NY Indian Film Festival- co-hosted by NY Women in Film and Television.
The 4PM screening will include a Q+A with Academy Award winning actress, Melissa Leo, who narrates The Only Real Game.
Mirra Bank is an award winning film director who lives and works in New York City. Her previous feature documentary, Last Dance, was short listed for an Academy Award.