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|May 30, 2000||
Shoma A Chatterji
Children's films in India either fall into the rut of thinly disguised pedagogy or absurd, amateurish nonsense. Of late though, some noted film-makers have made a significant contribution to children's films in the country.
Santosh Sivan is one -- Malli, his moving film, carried a subtle statement on the environment without diluting the innocence that childhood stands for. Amol Palekar's Kairi unfolded a telling relationship between a little orphan and her brutalised aunt without falling into the pedagogic trap. Nandan by
Another classic children's film is Bengali director Gul Bahar Singh's Goal (Hindi), which recently premiered as the inaugural film at the Children's Film Festival held under the joint auspices of Nandan and the Children's Film Society of India.
Produced by the CFSI, Goal is based on a short story by Prafulla Roy. The film opens with a train arriving at a small town, located at some distance from Calcutta. One of the passengers is Anupam, a professional football coach whose injury has forced him to to give up active sports. He has been invited by an old friend to coach the boys of the local club, Eleven Bullets.
The deal is simple: for Rs 10,000, Anupam has to get the kids to win the prestigious Challenge Trophy from their arch rivals, Benu Bina, and help them regain their former glory. But the boys, who come from elite backgrounds, tend to take the game rather casually. While Anupam struggles to instill a sense of discipline in them, he spots a boy from the nearby slums watching the game from a distance.
Manu lives with his mother and younger sisters and brothers and has only one desire -- to play football. Anupam, with his uncanny nose for talent, discovers Manu is an extremely gifted child who, with the right backing, will ensure Eleven Bullets' victory against Benu Bina.
But Manu's father is presently in jail. When Anupam decides to include him in the final game, both the boys and their parents object. First, because Manu's father is a thief and, secondly, because he belongs to a lower caste and is, therefore, not fit to play with them. Both the president and the secretary decide to keep the boy out. Anupam is forced to submit.
He then approaches Benu Bina where, again, both the president and the coach are his old friends. They readily take Manu into their team and the inevitable happens -- Benu Bina take home the Challenge Trophy.
Eleven Bullets accuses Anupam of sabotaging their game by introducing Manu to the rival team. "I am a sports coach and it is my responsibility to scout talent wherever I find it. As far as I am concerned, the social background does not matter. I offered Manu to you, but you refused to accept him. Benu Bina did. And look what happened."
He leaves without accepting payment for his job. The film closes with a moving frame of Manu, silhouetted against a golden sky, gracefully lobbing his football...
Gul Bahar Singh, who has the distinction of being the only Sardar in a film industry monopolised by Bengalis and Marwaris (or is it Rajasthanis?), is a gifted film-maker whose work has not received its due.
His earlier effort was a full-length Hindi feature film, Sundari, which was rejected for the Indian Panorama a few years ago. Set against the backdrop of the forests of North Bengal, it was a beautiful movie about the relationship of a small boy with a beautiful doe he christens Sundari.
Singh then went on to make a two-part fictionalised tele-documentary on Munshi Premchand for Doordarshan. It remains, till date, the most well-researched video documentation of one of the most gifted litterateurs in India. He also made a short documentary on Balmurali Krishna.
Goal, however, is his best production to date because it is everything a children's film should ideally be. It is very optimistic, it is not melodramatic and it ends on a note of hope.
Goal also scores because it appeals to adults and children alike. Adults, because it strikes a chord somewhere, reminding them of their own childhood. Children, because it shows that neither poverty nor caste nor a negative social backdrop can really stop talent from flowering if one has the strength, courage and determination to succeed.
Watching the film in a theatre full of noisy school kids turned out to be an experience by itself. They clapped, whistled and cheered every time Manu approached the goalpost in the finals. It underscores the importance of movies like Goal, which can take them away from their torturous routine of school, exams and homework.
The film is very good on other counts as well. It discovers a rare talent in Tapas Dhali (Manu), who brings out the emotional pain of being deprived of using his talent. He is a good choice, because he is a good football player in real life.
Then, there is the background score by Chandan Roy Choudhury, who uses lovely melodies with rhythmic beats to keep time with the pace of the game.
Barun Raha (cinematography) captures varying moments in the film with equal fluidity, completing the picture as he closes in on the silhouetted figure of Manu and his football.
Ujjal Nandy's editing is crisp, tight and holds the narrative well within grasp. And the script (Partha Banerjee, Subir Mukherjee) makes even peripheral characters like Manu's mother and Benu Bina's coach come alive. Irfan Khan as Anupam gives his usual, underplayed performance with conviction. But it would have helped if his dialogue delivery was a bit more articulate.
Goal reaches far beyond it primary goal of offering wholesome entertainment to children within the format of cinema. It uses a simple and straightforward narrative to throw subtle, acidic barbs at our approach to sports in general and football in particular.
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