GUWAHATI, June 22 � Dulumoni Rabha�s mother and brother work in stone quarries to make ends meet. Nikumoni Kalita�s father digs sand from the river bank to run his family. Popy Rabha�s mother pulls a hand-cart and sells snacks in the weekly local market so that her family can have their next meal.
While abject poverty is the obvious commonality here, there is another point that binds these girls of the Rani area, located on the city outskirts bordering Meghalaya, together. They are looking at the game of football to take them out of their drudgery.
And they have to thank Hem Das, a veteran coach from Guwahati, who spends his own money to teach football to some 40 girls like them.
Now, even as the world is under the grip of the FIFA World Cup fever, their story has come alive in a documentary � Soccer Queens of Rani � by film critic-cum-filmmaker Utpal Borpujari, made for Rajya Sabha Television. The 26-minute film was commissioned by RSTV channel as part of a series on developmental and aspirational stories of modern India.
In a sense, it is a real-life Bend It like Beckham story, in that it is also about the passion among some girls to play football. But the similarity ends there. The girls of Rani come from poor, agrarian families of villages, which, despite not being very far from Guwahati, remain so backward that quite a few hamlets in this tribal-dominated region do not have access to power supply even today.
�For these girls, football provides an outlet to go beyond their mundane lives, and as the film reveals, quite a few of them also see it as an opportunity to get a better life in the future. They walk or cycle several kilometres every day to practise football, which speaks volumes about their dedication. And they practise it in the time they find after attending school and doing household chores,� says Borpujari.
The film, says the director, is also about the dedication of Das, a former Assam player who runs the Young Star Football Coaching Club in Guwahati.
�There are many coaches who are as dedicated as Das towards the game, but what made the story interesting for me is the fact that he spends a major portion of his earnings in going about 20 days a month to Rani to teach football to these girls, and even buying kits for them,� says Borpujari, whose documentaries Mayong: Myth/Reality and Songs of the Blue Hills have earned international acclaim.
�The film, apart from focusing on the story of aspirations of a bunch of young, underprivileged citizens of modern India, also focuses on how individuals can play a role in shaping the nation�s future, even if in small ways,� he says.
While the research work for the film was done by Guwahati-based journalist Abdul Gani, the cinematography has been done by Biswajeet Changmai, editing by Umesh Kumar and music by Anhad Imaan and his team. The executive producer of the film is Jayanta Goswami, the producer of Mayong: Myth/Reality and National Award-winning feature film Mon Jaai.
What makes the subject really interesting is the fact that Das had initially gone to the area in search of young boys interested in playing football, but he found that instead of boys, girls were flocking to him to learn the sport. While telling the stories of the girls, the film also captures the socio-economic life of the area they come from, thereby trying to show how fruits of modern development have not equitably reached all the people.
The film�s subject is also important in the context of the North-East India, where football is a passion and States like Manipur and Mizoram and clubs like Shillong Lajong FC have proved themselves to be major players on the national scene.