May 20, 2019

Roopa Barua’s ‘Daughters of the Polo God’ Won Best Documentary at NYIFF

Roopa Barua’s ‘Daughters of the Polo God’ won the Best Documentary Award in the recently held 19th Annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF). The 33-minute short is a beautifully shot and heart-warming narration of young Manipuri women in the state’s polo sport, who overcame adversities to gallop ahead, along with the plight of the ponies due to ecological disruptions.

The shimmering emerald state of Manipur, India, is considered the birthplace of modern polo - often thought of as a game of the rich, generally dominated by men, who have played this game here for centuries. However, a quiet revolution is taking place at the very place where it all started.

A young polo sisterhood is developing in Manipur that ploughs on despite adversity and political turmoil. These fiercely determined women are intensely connected to their sacred Manipuri pony and play an international tournament every year, competing with the world's best. These Manipuri women from humble backgrounds are not only shattering stereotypes that polo is a game for men, but also that it is the privilege of the rich. Today, the State has about two dozen women professional polo players representing two-thirds of all women polo players in India.

But with shrinking grazing land, the encroachment of wetlands and smuggling across the border where they being used as beasts of burden, the ponies are under severe threat, with their numbers estimated to be fewer than 500 today.

Lately though, there has been a remarkable re-awakening of interest in modern polo in Manipur, which also houses the oldest living polo ground in the world, and ever-increasing awareness for saving a rare breed, which has reaped benefits.

Roopa Barua’s film is not only a tribute to the polo players and the modern Manipuri women but also a campaign to save the iconic Manipuri pony.

An unwavering fan of the cinematic medium, Roopa Barua seeks to create nuanced cinema that goes beyond geography and human boundaries. She has also won multiple awards in 2015 for her documentary ‘Riders of the Mist’ which dealt with the hundred-year-old bareback racing tradition in Assam, with semi-feral ponies. She is also a frequent contributor to the movie blog - ‘A Potpourri of Vestiges’. She covered the Cannes Film Festival 2015 for films in both the Palme D’Or and the Un Certain Regard categories for this blog. The filmmaker has a Certificate in Film Production from New York Film Academy and has also taken film criticism courses at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to her career as a filmmaker, Roopa Barua was a banker with Morgan Stanley in Boston and San Francisco. She has a degree in Economics and Finance from Boston University.

The New York Indian Film Festival also saw ‘Sir’, directed by Rohena Gera, winning the top honour, Ritesh Batra winning the Best Director prize for his film ‘Photograph’, Adinath Kothare winning the Best Actor Award for ‘Paani’ and Tillotama Shome receiving the Best Actress Award for ‘Sir’.

It may be mentioned that four films by Assamese filmmakers - ‘Bulbul Can Sing’ by Rima Das, ‘Bhoga Khidikee’ by Jahnu Barua, ‘Aamis’ by Bhaskar Hazarika and ‘Daughters of the Polo God’, were screened at the NYIFF.

Prantik Deka


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