These gutsy schoolgirls are changing their circumstance with football

Feb 28, 2017, 11:40 IST | Fiona Fernandez

The school football team with coach Rafiq Shaikh (centre, in white tee)
The school football team with coach Rafiq Shaikh (centre, in white tee)

How did you come across this school in Jalna for the film 'Field of Dreams'?
I am a voracious reader. I came across an online article on a football coach in a rural school in Ambad in Jalna district that was working magic with girls. Rohini Pashte hadn't yet been selected for the Homeless World Cup in Chile. The story intrigued me enough to plan a trip to Ambad, where the school is based, and meet the coach, the principal and the extremely motivated students. Soon, one of their star pupils Rohini was selected by Slum Soccer to represent India at the HWC in Chile. However, even before that I had decided to make this documentary, as I felt it was a story worth telling. 

Rohini competes with the best in Chile at the Homeless World Cup
Rohini competes with the best in Chile at the Homeless World Cup

Were there any challenges while filming?
The shoot was a breeze — the students were keen to show us their best moves on and off the field; their dedication and focus and the unquestioning obedience to their coach Rafiq's (Shaikh) schedules was an example to all of us (the crew) that no goal is unattainable if the intent and execution is right.

Our challenge was to fit in maximum stories of girls who had transformative experiences, and since almost every girl in the 150-strong school had an inspiring tale; I selected the most representative stories.

What was the coach's role?
The coach is the central character along with Rohini. He is the main architect and motivator for these girls and their achievements. The decision to teach them football (kho kho and other sports), to stick to it despite initial misgivings and shyness from the girls and their parents, the success at district, state, national and international levels is an amazing feat. For the girls,
he is 'Coach Sir', and his word is like the word of God.

Minnie Vaid
Minnie Vaid

Where do the principal and the school fit in?
The principal and staff of the KGBV (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya) are committed to giving these school dropouts a second chance at a proper education, nutrition, a balanced study-sports daily schedule and a real shot at an independent future. The principal wants to ensure that the girls shift the gender balance in their homes as well, making their mothers aware of their rights and patriarchal attitudes. For lack of space, I had to
edit sections where the principal elaborated on how the girls would return in the vacations (this is a residential school) and educate their mothers on the things they learnt at school. The principal is equipping the students to study beyond class 10, and later, to pursue technical courses if further studies is not an option, so that they can get jobs and support themselves.

The football ground of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya
The football ground of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya

How did their parents react?
As the girls said in their interviews in the film, initially there was resistance — 'this is not a sport played by girls'. But once they started playing and winning at the state and district levels, and their names began to appear in local Marathi newspapers, pride kicked in and they were encouraged. Today, Rohini is a role model in the district; parents want other girls to emulate her success story.

What do these girls hope to achieve in the long run?
Many of the girls told me that they had played at state and national levels for football and kho kho and would like to continue playing in college. Rohini wants to play football for India. How far they are able to continue their engagement with football is a question for the future.

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