As a documentary about the sport of baseball, it is only appropriate that “The Only Real Game” unfolds like nine innings, with the home town Indians taking their turn at bat, followed in rotation by the ambassadors that brought baseball to their country…
You see, we’re not talking about the Indians who play on the banks of the Lake Erie, but rather Indians from the country of India, specifically the region of Manipur.
And like a baseball game, the story proceeds at a deliberate pace, punctuated every so often by a visual homerun.
“The Only Real Game” focuses on a region of India that the United States used as an airbase during World War II, leading to the growth of baseball there.
That growth has been hampered somewhat by the fact that the local goverment is too ineffectual to build a proper electric grid or water treatment plant, let alone a diamond. The violence from an on-going civil war is so endemic that, even in a movie about baseball, the number of guns in any given scene might outnumber the number of balls and bats. Add in the challenges of the area’s rampant drug usage, disease and unemployment, and the fact that Manipuris play the sport at all is a small miracle, but play it they do.
In fact, two MLB representatives featured in the film say they are surprised by the passion for the sport that exists there, not just in the Indian men, but maybe especially in the women.
One wonders if director Mirra Bank could have enriched her documentary by focusing on one of two of these individuals and telling their stories, but then, of course, she would have sacrificed the breadth of the experiences in Manipur that she portrays.
And one must credit Bank for being such an unobstrusive, impartial eye on the goings on, despite filming in an area where cameras and camera crews are probably especially rare.
In the end, what she accomplishes is telling a granular, heartfelt-without-being-syrupy tale. There are no happy endings here, but there is hope, which itself is a remarkable thing. It’s the real-life background of the based-on-a-real-story movie, “Million Dollar Arm” that comes out May 16.
“The Only Real Game” is set for a limited release this June in New York and LA. However, there’s a special screening at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 6 in Columbus, Ohio at the Wexner Center. Tickets are $8 for the general public, $6 for students and seniors.