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Egaro: The Celluloid Tribute To The Great Mohun Bagan Team Of 1911

First of all, our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita.

-Swami Vivekananda


It is said that the British rulers introduced the game of football in India to divert the attention of Indian youth towards the game and make the freedom struggle against them weaker. But, the game of football did more in uniting the people of India than dividing them and football became the mean through which the feeling of independence reached the Indian masses. The physical and mental freedom that the game brought among the people led to a more united and heavier approach against the British Raj. And if there was one incidence that accelerated this, it was the win of IFA Shield by the bare-footed Indians of Mohun Bagan against the pampered foreigners of East Yorkshire in 1911.

Bengali director Arun Roy took up this topic to make his latest Bengali movie Egaro: The Immortal Eleven that released the last year in the centenary celebration of the historic win of Mohun Bagan. It may be a bit too late to do a review, but I could not resist but share it with the football crazy people at Sportskeeda.

The Movie

Ranadip Basu as Abhilash Ghosh

Egaro the immortal eleven is a tribute to the eleven players of the Mohun Bagan team of eternal fame. But the movie is not just about football, it underlines the unity that this great match aroused among the people from around Bengal and other parts of India. The movie starts with the semi final match of the IFA Shield between Mohun Bagan and Middlesex Regiment that Mohun Bagan ends up winning. The rest of the movie is about the few days between the semi final and the final. The reaction of the common people, the intellectuals, the freedom fighters and the British rulers on this surprising occasion of a local club reaching the final of the IFA Shield is the essence of the movie.

The British government took this as an insult to their royalty in India and were ready to do anything to stop Mohun Bagan winning the match. Police Commissioner Halliday tried to take every step to ensure the win of the British team and called the IFA Secretary to do the needful. He wanted to punish one of the Mohun Bagan player Abhilash Ghosh who injured the Middlesex goalkeeper Piggot in the semifinal match. However, the movie shows the humane and sportsman like quality of the goalkeeper, who denied any fault of Abhilash in the unfortunate clash on field and also of the match referee Pullit, who denied treating players separately on anythong other than the rule of the game.

The team in the movie

The common people from India loved the game as it was the only chance for them to see the British getting kicked without any recoil. Tolerating years of oppression and unable to resist, they wanted to have fun watching something that they could not even dream of. However, the intellectuals and the freedom fighters of India were not very impressed with the idea of playing football at a time when the country and its people had to suffer inhumanly, but gradually, looking at the hype the match had created they had to concede. The Bongiyo Sahitya Parishad postponed the condolence meet of writer Indranath Bandyopahyay and one of the armed freedom strugglers in the movie, Nagendra, came to support and cheer for his colleague Rajen, whom he earlier castigated for giving more importance to football.

The slice of time between the semi final and the final includes some of the struggles that the players face. While the family of striker Abhilash Ghosh did not care about his footballing talent and feared a backlash from the British rulers in case of a win, Sudhir Chatterjee, the only player able to afford a boot, was target of jibes from his British colleague in the college and suspended indefinitely.

The last half an hour of the movie shows the final match and the emotions of the people arriving from far places like Patna, Purnia, Dhaka, Assam, Burdwan and other places to see the match. There is heartbreak for the Indian fans as the homeside concedes a goal in the first half from a freekick due to a confusion between the goalkeeper Hiralal and defender Sukul. But in the second half captain Sibdas scores the equaliser and then a few minutes from the final whistle, striker Abhilash shoots a ball towards the goal which hits the crossbar and then he scores with a flying header on the rebound.

Though centred on football, the movie could not ignore the other parts of life at the time. The struggle against the British rule, especially the partition of Bengal at that time, grabbed a part of movie showing a group of armed freedom fighters led by Nagendra. The slight romantic touch with the relationship of Bina and Abhilash and the one sided love of Ellina towards Sudhir provides a sense of relief and joy in an otherwise tense movie.

The movie by Arun Roy has a well-researched plot and it is as close to reality as a movie can be. However it is a piece of fiction and has certain dramatised scenes. The police violence in the killing of Bina’s grandfather could be avoided.

The music of Mayukh-Moinak is touching and Gopi Bhagat’s cinematography deserves credit. It is, for sure, a great tribute to the eleven men, who made the history on 29 June, 1911.

The Golden Eleven Men:

The real eleven

Hiralal Mukherjee; Bhuti Sukul, Sudhir Chatterjee, Manmohan Mukherjee, Rajen Sengupta, Nilmadhav Bhattacharya, Kanu Roy, Habul Sarkar, Abhilash Ghosh, Bijoydas Bhaduri, Shibdas Bhaduri (CAPTAIN).

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