‘Victory, defeat, glory” are the three words that introduce you to Messi, Arnob Riingo Banerjee’s new film. Messi has nothing to do with Lionel Andres Messi except that his name is used more as a metaphor. Is it a tribute to the great player? Or is just the name of one of the protagonists the only coincidence? Of course, the name counts because there is only one real Messi in the world and one more must be a product of fiction. And so it is. It is dedicated to football as a team game for one and to Messi, and other marquee players like Ronaldo and the rest, for another.
Messi, the film, is remarkable because it will revive the interest of the Bengali viewer for films dealing with sports in general and football in particular, which is not that common in this region. Till date four Bengali films have been based on football — Mohanbaganer Meye, Dhonni Meye, Shaheb and Egaro, which was released in 2011 while the others were made around three decades ago. Since all these movies were huge hits one wonders why it did not occur to filmmakers to cash in on football as a subject? Around a decade ago, Gul Bahar Singh made an excellent Hindi film called The Goal, starring Irrfan Khan, which was shot in West Bengal.
Apart from The Goal and Egaro, the other films were not exactly on the sport and its logistics, politics and dynamism, but rather on how Bengalis’ obsession with football can impact the lives of those who are passionate about the game and its effect on their respective families. They were extremely entertaining and also commercial hits.
“I was inspired to make this full-length feature film on football after I had made a short film when Messi had come to India in August 2011 and ESPN had commissioned me to make a short promo on football. The film found prominence in Spain where the media reported at length about an Indian making a short film on football. The idea of making a bigger film stayed with me and now, here I am with Messi with a slightly different slant. It is not about a proper football match played between professional teams for a trophy but it is more about para football or street soccer as it is played in the narrow lanes of middle-class localities in Kolkata,” says director Riingo.
What is this different slant? It captures the mindset, the razorsharp competitive edge between the neighbourhood rival teams where there is a lot of envy, jealousy and one-upmanship on one hand and a different technique of playing the game on the other. For instance, street football has to be played with either five or seven a side unlike proper football. The walls across the streets where the matches are played become part of the game, or the lamp posts or windows, as if they are also players, and often, instead of throwing the ball at another player, a player first hits the wall and then passes it on.
Riingo is basically a trained cinematographer and a brilliant one at that and the trailers of Messi will show you the dynamism with which his camera moves, the use of colours in every sphere of the film ranging from the designing of the tee-shorts with international footballers’ names printed on their backs to the colours that distinguish the two teams. For instance, Chhotu is stuck with the nickname Messi and his tee shirt has Messi’s name printed on the back while his rival, an equally good football player in the opposing team, has Ronaldo printed on the back. Riingo has equipped himself with a new camera called Sparrow, which is especially designed to capture action sports or sports in action, whichever way you look at it.
Pradip Churiwal, who has produced the film, asked Riingo to make Messi a wholesome entertaining film with a touch of comedy, intrigue, competition, human touches, emotions and so on. Both Ronodeep Basu who plays Prosun and Aryaan who plays Chhotu have already featured in two sports-centric films. While Ronodeep portrayed Abhilash, the striker in Egaro, a film version of the historic match played between Mohun Bagan and the East Yorkshire Regiment for the IFA Shield in 1911, Aryaan (As Debdaan) made an extremely impressive debut in Chalo Paltai where his father’s use of the cane to make him concentrate on his studies blocks his passion for cricket in which he has immense talent.
Messi is the story of two brothers. The older brother Prosun (Ronodeep Basu) is considered a failure in life by his father because though he is a graduate, he is unemployed and unable to play football like his younger brother Chhotu or Messi (Aryaan Bhowmick) because he suffers from chronic ashthma. But the two brothers are close and the younger one prods on his older brother to pull up his bootstraps and cheer up. Prosun has a frustrated life from which he tries to seek relief by dating his pretty girlfriend or fixing local football matches for Chhotu who gives him a slice from the money won. Chhotu is much in demand from all local clubs across West Bengal and is the apple of his father’s eye as the man was once a football coach. Chaity Ghoshal, Sumit Samaddar, Nigel Antony and Rana Mitra play the other pivotal roles in the film, which also introduces Aishika as Mou, Prosun’s supportive girlfriend. Dibyendu Mukherjee (Cactus) has scored the music.
“If there is defeat after victory, there will be glory after defeat!” is Riingo’s bottom line. With that in mind, one will surely wait for Messi to hit the screens on 26 May.