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A hockey story from coffee-country

Sandhya Kumar  

Over 3,000 players — men, women, and children — of the Kodava community from Coorg gather annually for the family hockey tournament in the midst of coffee plantations, summer vacations and the wedding season.

It’s regarded as the world’s largest field-hockey tournament. Curious about this sociological phenomenon and their passionate love for the game that forms the glue, binding generations, Bengaluru-based documentary filmmaker Sandhya Kumar decided to make a film.

After two years of research, several visits to Coorg, interviewing players and hosting families, crowd-funding, and filming the 2013 tournament, her film Hockey In My Blood is ready to be aired at this year’s tournament.

The 52-minute film is in English and Kodava-takk (with English subtitles). The 19th edition of the Kuppanda Cup Kodava Hockey Namme 2015 is currently underway at Virajpet (Coorg) and Sandhya’s film will be screened at the festival on May 7, two days before the finale.

The tournament is played over a month, with a series of about 250 knockout matches, played by anywhere between 220 to 260 teams — each team being one family. Many of the players have played for the State and National teams; some are even former Olympians. Every year, one family hosts the tournament.

“It’s the coming together of people that fascinated me. It’s a family tournament, with no big money or stakes involved. The Kodavas are a sports-obsessed community. Most of the people don’t live in Coorg — they live and work mostly in Bangalore, Mangalore, and Mysore — but have an estate and family to go back to in Coorg. When you have to put together a team of 11, contacting third and fourth cousins you’re otherwise not really in touch with, it is something. Within the clan there are classes — a carpenter may be playing alongside a banker — but the point is every one comes together for this,” explains Sandhya.

Armed with an MFA in Film from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MA in Mass Communication from Jamia Millia Islamia University, Sandhya has been making documentaries since 2007. She won the President’s National Film Award of India (2013) for her documentary O Friend, This Waiting! After she moved to Bangalore three years ago when she married, she missed her close-knit film community in Delhi; so, along with fellow filmmakers, Sandhya helped revive Vikalp Bengaluru, a forum that regularly screens the best of documentary films from all over the world.

The story of Hockey In My Blood started when a Kodava friend of Sandhya’s was talking about the tournament, and suggested “Why don’t you make a film on it?” “There were no books on the subject, very few people in Bangalore knew about it. I only had newspaper articles to fall back on and I hadn’t been to Coorg before that. Later, when I was in Coorg for a wedding, I became interested in the community sociologically, and their passion for hockey when the rest of the country was obsessed with cricket.”

Her friend Deepthi Bopaiah offered help and introduced her to the host family for 2013 — the Madanda family, and the tournament’s coordinator Thimmaiah Madanda.

There were initial apprehensions about her making the film. But when they met up, they were pleased that someone was interested in this phenomenon, adds Sandhya.

Through the organiser, she identified players she wanted to interview and film. While she started filming impulsively with her own funds, film grants were few to come by. She soon found a need to crowdfund the film — in about five months, she raised Rs. 7 lakhs from family and friends through the Orange Street platform. “I met this young boy called Prajwal. He and his family lived on a small estate, and along with his brother he practised hockey in the coffee-drying yard in front of their home. We filmed him extensively. The film was shot in Balugodu, Virajpet, Palangala, Murnad, and the Karnataka State Hockey Association. Participants start practising just about a week before the tournament, because most live far off; some players have even come in from Dubai to participate.”

Sandhya also met Pandanda Kuttanni, who is well into his 70s, and the founder of the concept of this tournament. “He said he was in Delhi during the 1982 Asiad cup and felt Coorg needed a tournament like this to bring together a people who were moving away from home,” recalls Sandhya.

At the end of it all, Sandhya says: “It’s the commitment of the players to their families, the extent they will go to, to give up whatever they are doing to go back home to Coorg, and play for family — that was my best takeaway from the film.”


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 7:17:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/a-hockey-story-from-coffeecountry/article7134402.ece

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