The hoardings and posters of Bhalobasa Off Route E released recently in Kolkata theatres showcased not-very-young actors in football gear looking into the camera with challenge writ on their angry faces. One felt this was one film that explored football as a subject. Few Bengali films in recent times have cared to explore the cinematic potential of football targeting the Bengali audience. It was disappointing to find that the film was not really about football but used the game as a peg to hang its love story on via the near-terrorist tactics of the local goons headed by two brothers. The story had potential to become a good sports film. But director Arunava Khasnobis developed cold feet at the last moment and allowed the screenplay to get out of control. Besides, Saswata Chatterjee well into his forties and with no physique for a footballer who has never missed a penalty kick in his life is no good image for a young and strapping footballer. Nor do men in their thirties and forties like Rudranil Ghosh, Rahul Banerjee etc fit into the image of footballers. The film was whittled away from the theatres within the week.
Through the Sixties and Seventies, only three films were made with football either as the subject or as the backdrop - Mohunbaganer Meye, Dhanyee Meye and Shaheb. All three films were big hits. So one wonders why it did not occur to filmmakers to cash in on football as a subject. Gul Bahar Singh made Goal for the CFSI around a decade ago. But it was in Hindi though it was shot in Bengal. This is a strange phenomenon because a film on football can have a very dynamic storyline, can create an interesting structure, fill it with action and drama and in short, invest a lot of suspense that can keep the audience glued to the edge of its seat and keep biting off its nails. It can also be economical as it can be shot entirely on location with minimum props or indoor shooting. Technically, it can challenge a good cameraman and place demands on the editor.
Bappaditya Chakraborty under the banner of Saheli Film Production announced with much funfare in October 2010, a feature film called Jug Jug Jiyo, centered on football. The film to be directed by Shankar Roy, had a script that claimed to scan the ugly politics involved in this team sport, the greed for money, the lust for power, the highs and lows of a once-at-the-top-but-later-disgraced football star and of course, stipulatory doses of romance. Though reports are rife that the film has been completed, nothing seems to be in the offing.
In November last year, Success Life Creation Pvt Limited, a wellness organization, stepped into film production with Bicycle Kick. The phrase stands for a kick in football. Debashish Sen Sharma and Sumit Das are the promising directors with a script by Sen Sharma. “It is the story of an ordinary boy’s rise from anonymity to success as an inspirational story that holds up the positive qualities of the game such as team spirit, the determination to make it come what may, and the focus and discipline one needs to develop to attain excellence in football,” says Sumit Das. The boy, Rubayet, will be portrayed by Saurabh Chatterjee.
Ritwik Chakraborty has done the role of Rubayet’s coach Moti-da while Riddhima plays his love interest Madhabilata. Says Ritwik, “I am generally quite careful about choosing my films though I do not have much of a choice but when the directors explained the character and the film, it enthused me at once.” Riddhima has a personal interest because her late grandfather was actively involved in football “and I have decided to dedicate the film as a tribute to his memory.”
Subrata Bhattacharjee, renowned ex-footballer and currently one of the finest football coaches in the country who coached the actors in Jug Jug Jiyo, says, “Across the world, 67% are avid fans of football while only 8% watch cricket. Yet, because of the glamour and the money that is being spent on cricket, football, one of the few team sports Indians are skilled in, has been marginalized,” in relation to this film. The film is complete and is awaiting release.
A landmark feature film on football that was a great surprise package is Egaro, produced by Anilabho Chatterjee and directed by debutant director Arun Roy. Egaro is a tribute to a great Indian victory celebrated its 100th year in 2011. During the first decade of the 20th century, several things happened in Bengal that changed somewhat, the status quo of power within the British administration in India. The first was the Bengal Partition enforced by Lord Curzon in 1905. The second was the execution of Khudiram Bose for his attempt to murder Kingsford in 1908. The third is Mohan Bagan’s historic winning of the prestigious IFA Shield from its British opponents, East Yorkshire Regiment on 29th July 1911.
This win marks the consolidation of the freedom struggle that gained so much in terms of both momentum and power that the British administration felt threatened by the united solidarity of the entire East and shifted its capital from Calcutta to Delhi on December 12 the same year. Egaro is not only a film about a historic football match where words like ‘justice,’ ‘fair play’ and ‘equality’ do not exist; where the balance is tilted always in favour of the ruling class, the British and against the ruled – the Indians. But it is also a story where the winning is not confined to a match but reaches out to blend into the country’s larger struggle for freedom.
Alas! Films like Egaro grace the cinema world once in 100 years!