Inshallah, Football touched me, but I wasn’t sure why I felt that way. The answer was so complex, it took me 3 days to research and understand Director Ashvin Kumar’s persuasive documentary about the decades of conflict in Indian administered Kashmir, aka Jammu and Kashmir.
Ostensibly, the film is about an Argentine coach who has started his own football academy (ISAT) in Kashmir, and in 2009, wants to send 18 year old Basha and 2 of his teammates to train in Brazil. But Basha discovers that he cannot get a passport because 20 years earlier, his father had sought a different kind of cross-border training — as a militant in Pakistan. However, the father has been so well rehabilitated as a successful businessman, that the son is unaware of this past.
Kumar’s film jumps back and forth between his protagonists. The father softly recollects his own torture and the Kashmiri beatings and murders committed by a brutal Indian military. His son Basha lives a teenage life while under the constant threat of military harassment. Coach Juan Marcos Troia and his wife work to help and inspire their players to dream of training in Brazil or Spain, and to keep them out of militancy.
Kumar spent 5 months filming and also intervened in the story as it developed. He exposed Basha’s passport problem in the Indian Express, which lead to an Indian official making sure that an innocent son was not condemned by his father’s past.
The soccer in the film is minimal. Mostly the game is portrayed by focusing on the fans. In fact, from the game video it is difficult to tell how skilled the ISAT players are. But in telling the story, the lack of soccer didn’t bother me, because Kumar utilizes a less is more technique, emphasizing events by downplaying the reactions to those events.
History and context
One problem I had with the film is that it can be difficult to follow. Maybe I’m a special case because I had a zero knowledge base about Kashmir, the Indo-Pakistani conflict over this region, and the discrimination that Muslims face in India. I also didn’t know that Kashmir is the only Indian state with a Muslim majority. After I studied up on these situations, I watched the film again, and then everything made sense!
So here’s some additional information that may help you before watching the film:
- There are 12M people in Jammu and Kashmir, which is about the same as the populations of Pennsylvania or Ohio.
- There are about 600,000 Indian Army soldiers (supposedly half the Indian Army) occupying the state. That’s a ratio of 1 soldier for every 20 people, or 50 soldiers per capita (thousand people).
- For comparison, in these 4 cities in the USA, the number of police per capita is: 1 in San Jose, 3 in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and 4 in New York.
- Pakistan was believed to be training the Kashmiri militants in the hope that Jammu and Kashmir would join Pakistan, which is Muslim. However, more recently, the insurgents they have trained have also tried to attack the Pakistani government. Some of the insurgents may be pushing towards an independent Islamic state.
- Right now, India is around 80% Hindi and 20% Muslim, but Muslims are expected to equal Hindis by 2050. Muslims in general feel discriminated against by Hindis, but at the same time, Hindis say that they have been driven out of Kashmir. So persecution works both ways.
- As with the Black Lives Matter movement, Kashmiris complain about excessive force. E.g., the army uses bullets rather than water hoses against their stone-throwing protestors.
- Srinagar, where Coach Troia set up his academy, has a population over 1M, equivalent to twice the size of Denver. It is also at the same mile-high elevation, making the weather more temperate and less tropical than the rest of India. Football has historically been popular in Kashmir, and Troia decided to settle there because the high altitude and meat diet made for potentially heartier players. This film takes place about 2 years after Troia has settled there.
- Troia and his family integrated into the community well, in part because even though they were from Argentina and Brazil, by appearance they were easily mistaken for Kashmiri.
- Insha Allah means “God willing”. Because only God knows the future, it is a way of saying that something will be done if God so wills it. It can be used as a respectful affirmative response, as in “yes i will do it, god willing”. It may also be used in a sarcastic way implying procrastination when talking about government processes, as in “Insha Allah your paperwork will be ready next week.”
In my research, I discovered what happened after the film was finished.
- Coach Troia was finally forced to leave India in 2012. The Jammu and Kashmir Football Association (JKFA) banned him from coaching, and a local sharia court (which has no legal authority) ordered the expulsion of key Christian missionaries. Troia was suspected of using football to convert his players to Christianity. While Troia denied this, there is a scene in the film where he gathers the team in a circle before the big game and prays (it might be in Portuguese). In addition, Troia’s detractors questioned who in Brazil was really funding him. After Kashmir, Troia pursued the same kind of work in Afghanistan.
- The player Basharat Bashir Baba finally made it to Brazil, and even got to practice with Neymar at Santos FC. It is unclear whether he went in 2010 or 2011, as there are many articles with conflicting dates. As of 2013, he was still not playing with a professional club. It is also unclear what happened to his family. People with similar names were recently arrested for terrorist plans. I wonder if the removal of a program that brought joy could have lead more young men to seek militancy and a heroism that they could not get through sports.
- Director Ashvin Kumar was virtually unable to get this film distributed in India, as it received a rating usually reserved for adult films. It became available on USA Netflix in Fall-2016.
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7