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

 Baseball hits a grand slam in 'The Only Real Game'
A scene from '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.

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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.

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