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Shob khelar shera bangalir tumi football..that famous Manna Dey epic song from Dhanyi Meye is still so very true for every Bangali household. And the oft-fought duels between Mohun  Bagan and East Bengal supporters within the same family! Football is almost like a philosophy that defines a Bengali’s life and provides the impetus to fight and face the ups and downs of life bravely and sportingly.

Bengalis have been crazy about the game and the game itself has obtained a distinct identity of its own, portrayed in myriad ways in Bengali literature, theatre and films. Famous theatre personality, Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay had staged Football in 1977 and it received tremendous critical acclaim all over the country. The play dealt with contemporary socio-political turmoil and the simmering fury of the unemployed youth force lacking direction. The only way to channelize their pent-up anger and frustration was the game of football. 

For Tollywood, football has been often the presiding deity, and some great cult movies were made on football. Take for example the 1971- blockbuster movie Dhanyi Meye. Remember that middle aged Uttam Kumar and his brilliant comic portrayal of a man who owns a football club and is obsessed with the game? He wants his team to win the champions’ trophy but his rival club is equally determined to snatch it away. The match itself becomes a fun-filled event when Uttam Kumar's club scores 10 goals in one match. Angry villagers interfere and things take a hilarious turn from there.

Then came Mohan baganer Meye, released five years later in 1976. This light-hearted romantic comedy highlighted the eternal Ghoti-Bangaals trife between supporters of Bengal’s two iconic football clubs - Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Utpal Dutt in all his satirical glory, comes up as a die-hard Mohun Bagan supporter and puts one condition for his son’s match making: the girl has tobe a Mohun Bagan supporter. But as things turn out, his son falls for a girl who is a staunch East Bengal supporter leading to some hilarious circumstances. 

Tollywood has also at times spoken of soccer players, their talents, their challenges. Saheb was such a heart-wrenching tale of a gifted young footballer who pursues his dream despite strong opposition from his family and manages to get selected in the national team. Meanwhile, his sister’s wedding is finalized and he discovers his father is worried about the expenses required for the wedding. The youth decides to sacrifice his career to generate funds for the event. Historical soccer movies like Egaro: The Immortal XI released in 2011, was a tribute to the historic win of Mohun Bagan against East Yorkshire Regiment on July 29, 1911. It was a red letter-day in the history of Indian football, when the first Indian team lifted the IFA shield. The movie narrates the match and legendary footballers who redefined patriotism in the era of the Swadeshi movement.

In 2015, young actor/director Parambrata Chatterjee’s Lorai was released on dark horses of football. Sebastian Ryan, an alcoholic ex-footballer is assigned to a politically-disturbed village of Purulia district by the government to engage the youth of the area with football. Later, the government plans to scrap the project, which doesn't go well with Ryan. Now, his team must perform well in the match against Kolkata Ekadosh to retain the project. Bengali’s tryst with football continues. The latest movie on football to hit the screen this June was Messi,that captured the Bengalis’ instinctive love for football. The film delivered a story that is entailed with love, loss, defeat, heartbreak, redemption and emergence. 

As the city hosts the FIFA U-17 World Cup, it is perhaps time to look back and recapitulate Bengal’s love for the game of football and its far-reaching impact on Bengali psyche.