Hockey In My Blood, a 52-minute documentary film by Sandhya Kumar, is the story of the annual Kodava Hockey Festival in Coorg. This 2015 film (English and Kodava takk, with English subtitles) takes us through the three- month-long preparation by the Madanda family, which organized the tournament in 2013.

A different family hosts the event each year.

“I first heard of the tournament through a Kodava friend," 33-year-old, Bengaluru-based Kumar said at a recent screening of the film in her city. “When I went to Coorg for a wedding, I got to understand this unique community better, and see their love and passion for sport, especially hockey."

The Kodavas are a small community of about 350,000 people from the district of Kodagu (Anglicized as “Coorg"), Karnataka. Kodava settlements are in the form of “Okkas" or family groups, which form the foundational basis of their society. Traditionally, Kodavas are landowning agriculturists, but their military history is a source of fierce pride: famous army officers include Field Marshal K. M. Cariappa and General K.S. Thimayya. Coorg is also called “the cradle of Indian hockey"—the Indian national team has had over 50 players from the region.

In 1997, a few Kodavas, led by Pandanda Kuttappa, decided to organize a hockey tournament. This led to the first Kodava Hockey Festival, with 60 teams taking part. The event’s rise in popularity coincides with the coffee crisis of 2000-04, a period which saw a global fall in coffee prices. Erratic rains and a bad crop in Coorg led to an economic slump in the region.

This meticulously planned and painstakingly organized event has completed 19 editions and brings together more than 200 families over a month in summer. There is no bar on age or gender: The only rule is that each team must represent a family.

Thus, hockey players of all ages, novices as well as former Olympians like A.B. Subbaiah and C.S. Poonacha, battle it out on the field. They spend time preparing in the preceding months and hockey camps spring up in the region to train players. Though there weren’t many women in the first few editions, the numbers are growing slowly. Priya Bopanna, one of the young players, takes a break from her training at a local hockey camp and says in an interview in the film, “The family gets noticed and praised if there is a girl playing."

Each year, families submit a detailed proposal to the Kodava Hockey Academy, an organization set up to oversee the festival.

“Hosting this tournament is a great honour for us," says Thimmaiah Madanda, who quit his job in Bengaluru to help organize it. This involved setting up stands in fields, finding sponsors, managing schedules and hiring audio consoles, among other things. Traditional ceremonies, songs and dances are performed at the inaugural and closing ceremonies. Rock concerts with local bands and fashion shows are organized too. Amar Aiyamma, a player, says in the film: “Training and playing together in the team has brought the family closer. Now, once a year, we get to meet other families and people, spend time together and party. And we even get invited to each other’s weddings!"

The event itself sees intense matches on dusty mud fields, egged on by a very vocal audience. Attendance is free and this has led to an ever-growing crowd—some peg it at 15,000—of enthusiastic spectators. The winning family has bragging rights for the rest of the year, and works hard to defend its title.

The film was made with 7 lakh, raised through a crowd-funded online campaign, which included contributions from the Kodava community. Says Kumar: “The people in Coorg didn’t complain, or wait for the government to intervene. They took matters into their own hands and organized everything themselves. That’s how the Kodava people are, and that’s what my takeaway has been."

The film will be screened on 29 August at Films Division, Peddar Road, Mumbai, at 4pm and on 16 August at Jagriti Theatre, Bangalore, at 11.30 am.

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