“India is obsessed with two things—cricket and Bollywood,” says Mithun L Bajaj. He is hardly far from the truth. Few things bring together Indians faster and better than a heated game of cricket or the latest 100-crore club contender from B-Town.
However, it comes at the cost of many other sports and art forms that struggle for their share of encouragement and support. Mithun, a filmmaker, is drawing attention to such a sport via, what else but a movie (no, not a B’wood production).
With his documentary movie Fighting on Ice, Mithun wants to put the spotlight on India’s little-known ice hockey players.
Fighting on Ice sets out to change this equation. Mithun’s movie on the country’s burgeoning ice hockey culture takes the audience to the heart of the action: Leh-Ladakh. Leh is home to Karzoo Ice Hockey Rink, the world’s highest natural rink for the sport. The region is also home to numerous local men’s and women’s teams.
“The movie focuses on the captains of both the women’s and men’s teams, the assistant captains, and the coach and general managers, among others,” says Mithun. “We have shot the team playing with Canada for the Indo-Canadian Ice Hockey (in the Himalayas) tournament and the CEC Cup Ice Hockey Championship. The movie also explores their love for the sport, their dedication, and their need for support from people and the government.”
It was, in fact, an interview of Tsewang Gyaltson, captain of the men’s national ice hockey team, that got Mithun started on his venture.
Armed with a degree in film-making and script writing from Australia, Mithun spent much of 2016 laying the groundwork for the movie—liaisons with the hockey association, pre-production, setting up interviews, and finally travelling to Ladakh in the winter to interact with the players and shoot them in action.
“The temperature drops to minus degrees in winter, and we had to take breaks every 30 minutes of shooting. I had a camera assistant with me, but I was directing as well as shooting. I had to think about everything and concentrate on the shots without feeling distracted by the cold,” Mithun says.
For an independent, self-funded project, finances certainly pose bigger challenges than any amount of cold. Currently inviting contributions through crowdfunding, Mithun hopes that the funds will help him hire a crew, invest in post-production, and shoot international championships in Thailand and Kuwait, in which the Indian teams for men and women will be participating.
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He hopes to complete shooting for the movie by the middle of this year, and start by sending the movie to film festivals. “We will continue with festivals till early 2018 and then I hope to release the movie via Netflix and Amazon Video,” he says.
Mithun hopes that Fighting on Ice will help showcase the talent of India’s ice hockey players and their sportsmanship in the face of severe challenges.
“Every sporting team needs time to develop and get better — the Indian cricket team didn’t start winning overnight,” says Mithun. “The players in our ice hockey teams are very talented. They need about eight months of practice, and all they get is two months before major championships. If they get enough practice, they can start winning.”
Awareness is the first step towards securing better facilities and opportunities for the players, asserts Mithun. While private sponsors tend to fund more popular sports like cricket, it is important that the government builds a platform for other sports as well.
Fighting on Ice is an attempt at generating awareness for a little-known game in a country that continues to lag behind at sports. Mithun says. “Nobody even thinks about ice hockey in India—yet these players are already talented. If they have the support and start winning tournaments abroad, wouldn’t it be a proud moment for all of us?”