Nepali Times
Crossborder football


For striker Krishna Sakya, football is more of a passion than a profession. He has no grandiose dreams of minting money playing football. Krishna doesn't want to go to Singapore, he'd rather be in Sonpur.

Last winter that is where he took the Yuba Sports Club from Birganj to the Bihar town of Sonpur for a football tournament. The Nepalis won the hearts of Indian players and spectators and came back with good memories.

The trip also offered a perfect opportunity for novice Birganj-based filmmaker Girish Giri to shoot with his camcorder and make his first documentary film. He filmed it on a shoe-string budget from his own pocket but all the trouble has paid off because Team Nepal is the only documentary from Nepal selected for the Film South Asia festival next week.

"This is so inspiring and my gratitude goes to our football team," says Giri modestly.

Team Nepal has the same quirky and quaint feel as The Other Final a documentary by two Dutch filmmakers about a match between Montserrat and Bhutan (ranked 202nd and 203rd in the FIFA tables) that coincided with the 2004 World Cup finals in Seoul.

The film takes us on a train journey across Bihar to Sonpur and the players are on as low a budget as the filmmaker. They are paid only Rs 100 to take part in the tournament, so they sleep in the train and eat from platform vendors.

But once they get to Sonpur, the Nepalis realise that the Bihari fans desperately want the Nepal team to beat other Indian teams.

"All of us want Nepal to take the trophy. They are considered the best here," says ecstatic organiser Akbar Khan of the 'Late JN Singh Memorial Football Tournament'. He thinks a Nepal victory will give the tournament more publicity.

At Sonpur railway station, a Bihari says on camera: "We support the Nepal team as they are disciplined and hardworking."

He was right, these were traits in much abundance as the match gets underway and team Nepal quickly makes it to the finals. The team loses to Patna in the finals, but no one in the crowd jeers.

It is when the team returns to Nepal that the players get disheartened by the lack of response. Their trip didn't make it to any of the Nepali national media and there was only a small mention in the Birganj papers. But for the players, the tournament was a big event because their small club was representing the country.

"It feels so good to be treated with respect but back home we get little recognition as our sport is too Kathmandu-centric," says captain Rajib Lakhe who was rejected from Nepal's national team. "Only Kathmandu gets the opportunities but we deserve a chance to show what we can do."

Despite all this, filmmaker Girish Giri feels his film will help raise the profile of little known footballers who could be as good as national players. It has especially been an educational journey for him, as well, to learn how hospitable people can be when it comes to sports.

"The Nepalis were very popular in Bihar and at the people-to-people level there is a lot of contact," says GC Dey, coach of the Calcutta team. Which also seems to be the theme of Giri's film and a feeling echoed in an impromptu farewell song that the linesman Satrughan Singh sings at the end of the film: "The ties that bind us have the power to resist all obstacles and may this bond never break."

Team Nepal will be shown on 30 October, 5PM, at Kumari Hall during the Film South Asia festival.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)