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Football frenzy in the North-East

Despite no podium finish at the soon-to-end first Indian Super League, Vikram Buragohain’s documentary Kicking From the Corner, promises to offer valuable insight into how football has a special place in the North-East. Kanika Sharma reports

Hoi Kiw
Hoi Kiw
One voice we’ll stand
It’s the very name
Come lads come
In Lajong’s name we’ll cheer

This is the club theme song that crowds shout themselves hoarse with for the Shillong Lajong FC — a men’s professional football club in Meghalaya. Lajong meaning ‘our own’ in Khasi holds the distinction of being the first North-Eastern club to be a part of the I-League top division, the country’s top most football competition. The coinage of the name itself is evident of the pride Meghalaya has not only in the club but the sport itself. Tata Institute of Social Sciences’ graduate Vikram Buragohain captures the craze the sport evokes in Meghalaya, through his latest documentary Kicking From The Corner. Here, one witnesses public screenings of the 2014 World Cup semi-finals, women discussing their favourite team while washing clothes and people uttering the R-word (Religion) for football and not cricket, unlike the rest of the India. In fact, the crowds pray just before the game is launched.

Before football matches in Shillong, the crowd prays for the match to go well
Before football matches in Shillong, the crowd prays for the match to go well

Kick off
From a professional referee in his 40s to a 26-year-old football player (in pic: Passah) including a young teen prodigy, Buragohain examines the passion for football that runs through generations in this region — a fervour he has witnessed as an Assamese who was brought up in Arunachal Pradesh. Speaking of zeroing down on Shillong, the filmmaker comments that feasibility was the main factor.

Onyxson is a prodigious talent who was recently regarded as the Best Striker in a prestigious match
Onyxson is a prodigious talent who was recently regarded as the Best Striker in a prestigious match

“I have watched football, since my childhood, and it’s that one thing that I am equally fond of as a game and an activity. I did my Masters research on football and identity in the North-East and found out there wasn’t much documentation of the sport here. In India, academicians are mostly interested in cricket, probably due to the pre-eminence of the sport in the national imagination, since the late 1970s,” he says.

Wailadmi Passah is a professional football player for Shillong Lajong FC
Wailadmi Passah is a professional football player for Shillong Lajong FC

Considering his work as a 30-minute ode to the love the sport enjoys in the region, Buragohain shares how it has shaped identities and livelihoods. In fact, there’s a moment in the film when the young prodigy, Onyxson informs that the club sponsors his school fees. Probing how the region has been different from the mainland, Buragohain gives several guessed genealogies from multiple sources. As per common lore, football has been played since colonial times, where Shillong shares an old connection. One of the oldest clubs of the state — Wahingdoh Sports Club, was established in 1946. As per the Club’s managing director, Dominic Sutnga, Christian missionaries introduced the sport.

Vikram Buragohain
Vikram Buragohain

Past perfect
The 25-year-old mentions how the East India Company introduced the sport though it was limited to officers of farms, regimental battalions, naval personnel and professors. This fact is echoed in port cities like Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Karachi. As the rest of India, along with premier international clubs, catch on to the potential India flaunts in football, the North-East is already proliferating as per its own rhythm. From the Shillong Sports Association (founded in 1916) to the state government, football lovers of the region are leaving no stone unturned in honing talent. As referee Division Wankhar says at one point unlike cricket, football is hardly time-consuming and provides adrenaline-driven entertainment in just two hours.

71 are the number of clubs in Shillong.

Premiere on: January 3 and 4
At: The Cut.In Student Film Festival at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar.
Watch the trailer on: vimeo.com/112316092

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