'The Only Real Game': Film Review

Cultural-exchange theme draws attention to long-running conflict in an area few Americans know about.

A strife-torn town in northeast India tries to use baseball to raise the quality of life.

Enthusiasm for America's so-called favorite pastime in other parts of the world is hardly unheard of, but Mirra Bank finds an unlikely hotbed of baseball love in The Only Real Game, a doc pairing sports fandom with attention to ongoing conflict few in the West will know much about. The shapeless but sometimes engaging film may win the hearts of some in the ESPN crowd, but is unlikely to play long on big screens.

The state of Manipur, which involuntarily became part of India in 1949, has for decades been home to bands of armed insurgents wanting their independence back. Battles between rebels and the Army are commonplace here, and high unemployment, HIV/AIDS and other woes make daily life even more challenging. A group of New Yorkers hope they can improve the lot of these people by encouraging their longstanding enthusiasm for baseball.

Bank tracks down American WWII veterans to explain how baseball arrived here "on the wings of war": Critical air routes made the area a natural location for supply bases, and in their ample downtime soldiers introduced locals to the game. Residents kept playing once the GI's left—some with enough enthusiasm that one can find women here today who care more about baseball than finding a husband.

Intriguingly, some of the biggest enthusiasts here are women. We get windows into the lives of some of them—like Devika, who works in public health and displays impressive zeal while coaching youngsters on the field—but the movie doesn't really focus on many individuals long enough to make them compelling screen characters. It's more interested in the two Americans who are sent by Major League Baseball to teach adults how to coach teams of youngsters. While both the visitors and their students appear to relish the friendships that spring up, and their interactions are sometimes charming, we're left with little reason to hope for the kind of economic boon from the project that these would-be coaches seem to expect.

Production company: Baseball Dreams, LLC

Director-Screenwriter: Mirra Bank

Producers: Laine Valentino, Muriel Peters, Richard Brockman, Mirra Bank

Executive producers: Abigail E. Disney

No rating, 82 minutes