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Baseball hits a grand slam in 'The Only Real Game'

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The Manipuris in northeast India love baseball, as seen in the documentary 'The Only Real Game'

Mirra Bank's warmhearted documentary "The Only Real Game" drops us into an oasis of play inside a region of hurt: the baseball fanatics of strife-ridden Manipur state in northeast India.

Introduced to the game by Americans stationed there in World War II, the Manipuris — a steadfastly athletic culture — took to it as a pastime, even when forced patriation into the Indian Union in 1949 provoked a violent separatist movement that's riven the region ever since.

Bank follows a few young players of both sexes who hope baseball is always part of their lives, whether at home or in America. (Women make up a large part of Manipur's most passionate participants.) The director also chronicles the efforts of two Major League Baseball ambassadors from a New York-based outreach effort called First Pitch. They travel to Manipuri to coach, inspire and maybe help a few dreams come true.

Bank isn't always entirely in control of her story's roiling emotions as hopes, fears, history, everyday life, political turbulence and field frolic sometimes get a Cuisinart-edited treatment. But there's enough honest grace to the obvious enjoyment this legendary sport gives people — whether struggling Manipuris or rejuvenated ex-pros — to make "The Only Real Game" a stirring ode to cultural bridge-building.

"The Only Real Game."

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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