In The Only Real Game, Mirra Bank shines a spotlight onto a nearly forgotten place, Manipur, a poor and war-torn state under martial law in northeast India.
In an area of the world where soccer and cricket reign, Manipuris were first captivated by baseball in the 1940s, as played by the American pilots who used their kingdom as a strategic spot to stock and launch their planes, and they remain amazingly dedicated to it.
This film contains just enough facts, figures, and footage to give us Manipur’s history and a vivid picture of its current dire situation. But Bank’s story of the women, men, and children so passionate about their game is itself wholly absorbing. The women, in particular, are especially ardent about baseball, as skilled at this game as they are at protecting their children and themselves from disease and insurgent soldier-thugs.
A bunch of American baseball fans get wind of the makeshift innings being played there and raise enough money to bring in regulation balls and bats, and, best of all, gung-ho Major League Baseball coaches.
Sometimes the Manipuris put too much stock in baseball, like so many dirt-poor dreamers do; there’s a lot of heartache. But mostly, they play for love, and this film is like another work in the canon of baseball poetry.