By Nagina Imtiaz
With five gunshots, darkness… followed by a man’s obsession with a football ground that makes him defy even death, Outfield Productions has set the ball rolling again. With a high-definition (HD) camera in hand, the team is back on the football field, capturing the reel-on-real action from real people.
Their latest presentation, Barefoot, a 153-minute first feature-length documentary on football, shows the passion for the game in Pakistan among the underprivileged sections of society, especially women and minorities who are keeping it alive in the face of inadvertency.
Hence there are the minor garbage collectors who cannot afford to buy football shoes or a ball, the QingQi (motorcycle rickshaw) driver willing to play even on a rough polo field, the priest of a Hindu temple recalling his playing days, the Christian girl who was discriminated against due to her religion, the Parsi boy who will travel far to find a suitable place to play, departmental coaches and other people associated with the game in their official capacities, and the keeper of one football ground who has created for them an oasis in the desert. Brought together by the love of football, his ground is a place of solace for all these people and their like whose combined efforts are seeing the game through all kinds of hurdles.
This is the first time that any film has taken up the issue of minorities and the discrimination they face in this society. Joyce Christina is a Christian woman from Karachi who tells her story of finishing a hurdle race in record time but not being given her due. The Hindu priest, Amarsee Megji Paria, an ex-goal keeper, tells how Hussain Killer was captain of the Mohan Bagan team consisting of 10 Hindu players and how sports make human beings out of common people.
The City District Government Karachi (CDGK) Stadium plays a symbolic role as it is seen serving as a kind of neutral territory where the game of soccer offers the same prospects as the football clubs of Bengal did for the players of Pakistan and India.
“Barefoot may be a football documentary but through it we have used sport to initiate an inter-faith dialogue to bring harmony among the masses who are, after all, united by their interests and aren’t that different from each other,” said director and producer Khalid Hasan Khan.
This is the third football documentary in the production house’s four presentations to date, namely, An Early Sunset (a 17-minute short documentary on football in Lyari that was bought by Ten Sports), The Last Refuge of the Afghans (a 22-minute documentary about football in Chaman and the bordering areas of Afghanistan) and Iron Slaves focusing on the ship-breaking industry in Gadani.
“But it happens to be the first Pakistani feature documentary on soccer,” Khalid points out, “as being of 153-minute duration it fulfills the description of a feature-length film which is anything on film that is over 120 minutes.”
The length also allows the film to cover all aspects keeping football from thriving in a country where everyone is playing the game, perhaps even more than cricket, but still failing to make a name for itself on the international front.
Taking off from Karachi’s Lyari, it takes you to up north to Bannu and Waziristan where the different climate or scenery has no effect on the fate of the sport. Hence soccer grounds are turned into marriage halls, politics prevents selection on merit, poverty keeps young enthusiasts from even dreaming about buying a ball or football shoes, and yesteryear greats of the game become eligible for zakat. The highlighting of all these issues by various sports journalists, too, falls on deaf ears.
“Football may be the richest and most popular sport of the world but in Pakistan it is has come to be associated with the poor and downtrodden. Footballers here are unwanted, poorly trained, badly equipped and underpaid. They are looked down upon but remain undaunted as they still want to play, whether they have shoes on their feet or not,” the film-maker observes.
“The film title Barefoot has been influenced by the first football club called Shoeless Ones, founded by the football’s great Pele,” says Khalid.
The film is an expensive venture that has been financed by the volunteers of Outfield Productions. “Our director of photography, D.M. Saeed deserves credit for his commitment to the project just like our other volunteers Mohammad Ali (narrator), Ravina Khan (executive producer) and Zahid Raja (unit production manager),” he concludes.