A Glimpse into the cradle of Indian Hockey through “The Mountain Hockey”
What the Indian hockey team both men’s and women’s did in Tokyo Olympics needs no introduction. History scripted, history revisited and history relived. There are major cumulative factors that account for the success, but most importantly it had not been without the support of the Odisha Government under the leadership of Naveen Pattanaik. Punjab, Odisha, and Coorg are the fountains of Indian hockey. When we speak of hockey in Odisha, the tribal belt that is Sundargarh and Sambalpur forms the spring where large chunks of players have emerged and made the land proud on a global stage. Be it Dilip Tirkey, Ignace Tirkey and Prabodh Tirkey, Subhadra Pradhan, Jyoti Sunita Kulu current Olympians Birendra Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka, and many more legends. All have been exemplary, brought the tribal identity to the world’s doorstep, and have left their imprints in the hearts of people.
The Mountain Hockey is the first Odia documentary film available in OTT directed by Avinash Pradhan and Debasish Mohapatra which gives the audience a glimpse of the cradle of Indian hockey by concentrating on a small village of Amlikhaman of Sambalpur district. The idea of the documentary emerged after the successful 2018 hockey world cup held in Bhubaneswar. But now when our Indian hockey players have surprised and inspired the nation of over 1.3 billion population in the past few days, the documentary becomes fitting to watch to have a glimpse of how hockey looks like at the micro-level.
The documentary can be seen as a small ode to the contribution of the tribals to the game. The opening Khadia song “Ani Cho Naing Dheerom Dheerom” (let us go together slowly slowly) fits perfectly with the tribal culture and game. The 40 min long documentary states how the people in the region learn to walk with hockey sticks carved out from bamboo, drumstick, and ‘kendu‘ branches. The story revolves around a small village Amlikhaman situated in mountains and from there comes the title of the documentary too. Fr. Rajendra is the inspirational figure there who has an undying passion for the game and wants to give back to his students through hockey who come to study in the Amlikhaman Mission School. Along with the studies, hockey training is provided to the students, especially to the girls. On the other hand, there is coach Dominic Toppo who states how in his early days he lacked guidance and direction else he would have made it to the top. We get to know-how in the early days there was a lack of guidance and opportunities but the passion for the game remained undeterred.
The students who come to the Amlikhaman mission school hail from humble backgrounds, some don’t have sticks, shoes, jerseys, and necessary equipment. Initially, the needs were met with the relentless efforts of Fr. Rajendra but later with the support of Rotary hockey Academy the scenario has changed a lot. Fr. Rajendra takes pride in the fact that from his place in the last 5 years 28 girls are in Sports Hostel Panposh and those who couldn’t make it have enrolled themselves in KISS. The vision of Fr. Rajendra Kujur for his students is not just making it to Olympics, Asian, or Commonwealth Games, rather through hockey he aspires that the students have an identity, take a stand in their lives and make the society proud.
One can see Fr. Rajendra embodying all the hockey fans, players, and hockey teachers who had much potential but couldn’t make it big. The Rotary Hockey Academy can be equated with the way the government is trying to extract and hone the raw talents from the region. The students stand parallel with all the great hockey players who once started with poverty, hardships, and struggle and have now made it big in their lives bringing glory to the land. Dominic Topo on the other hand suggests that hockey is not a new game in their place, the old man was once a raw talent and people like him in his days played with pure joy. A song is sung by him towards the end “genda khelo bhaia re genda khelo maidan dande re genda khelo”. It is a song which was sung in every match and tournament in the old days in the region. The song again serves as a passing baton of the game to the younger generation. Further, the school of Amlikhaman stands representative of all the schools in the region where the children come from tribal households, where no road reaches, where hockey is a culture and in their blood.
Hockey has been a source of livelihood and something which gives the tribals an identity in the Sambalpur and Sundargarh district. There are hundreds of national hockey players from the region and thousands who are earning their livelihoods through sports quota. The sport is not just any other game but an engine for socio-economic growth too. Even India’s largest hockey stadium is on the way in Rourkela where the foundation was laid in February 2021.
Out there, there are hardly any such movies or documentaries which match the content the way Mountain Hockey delivers. Now when Indian Hockey has made us proud, the audience with renewed interest for the game and The Mountain Hockey is also a celebration of women’s hockey, so it is a documentary which one cannot afford to miss.