Documentary channel

Documentary on basketball player Satnam Singh Bhamara scores a slam dunk or two despite its clichés

‘One in a Billion’ is a chronicle of the sportsman’s tough journey from Ludhiana to recruitment by the prestigious National Basketball Association.

“My father told me, Satnam, you have only three things...basketball, study and go sleep,” recalls a seven-foot two-inch sportsman in a village in Punjab’s Ludhiana district.

Satnam Singh Bhamara more than fulfilled his father’s wishes. Easily the most famous resident of Ballo Ke (population 800), Bhamara was the first Indian player to be drafted into the National Basketball Association in the United States of America in 2015. The Netflix documentary One in a Billion, despite its clichés and problems, is an absorbing chronicle of Bhamara’s remarkable journey.

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‘One in a Billion’.

The 69-minute film opens with a moving sequence of Bhamara visiting his village after a gap of several years. He had been drafted into the Dallas Mavericks team and had returned home a hero. We hear from the basketball player, his father, and his neighbours in “Indian” (you’d think someone would bother checking this stuff before putting it in to the documentary but alas, no).

At this point, Roman Gackowski’s documentary is still in its infancy, and you hope that this might be one of those white-saviour films with an Indian protagonist that will avoid the usual hyperbole.

That hope is short-lived as an assortment of NBA officials, including commissioner Adam Silver, sound very excited about “a huge untapped market”, “a burgeoning middle class” and “talent pool”. Coaching staff, officials and team owners Mark Cuban and Vivek Ranadive talk up Bhamara as the basketball god’s gift to Indian civilisation and speak of him as an Indian equivalent of China’s Yao Ming, carrying a billion hopes on his shoulders.

The comparison is erroneous. Ming was born in Shanghai to basketball players and played the sport throughout his formative years. Bhamara was born in 1995 in Ballo Ke to a farmer and a housewife, and discovered the sport only when he was 14 years old. Ming played Chinese professional basketball since he was 17 before being signed up by the NBA’s Houston Rockets at 22. Satnam trained at the IMG Reliance academy for five years before he was picked up by Dallas Mavericks, and he couldn’t speak proper English until he was 17.

Crashing the boards

One in a Billion is Bhamara’s story, no matter what spin is applied on it. It is the journey of an amazing individual whose inner fire not only saw him beat the odds and barriers but absolutely dunk them. The documentary is rescued by Satnam’s candidness and his story, with his five-year stint at IMG Reliance’s academy in Florida accounting for a majority of the narrative.

Bhamara’s struggle is real, and Indian basketball journalist Karan Madhok is a voice of sanity amidst the cheerleading. Madhok traces the challenges faced by Indian basketball players and acts as a bridge between Bhamara and viewers who may not be familiar with the sport’s set-up in India.

There is little to show from Bhamara’s time at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, apart from Teja Singh Dhaliwal, senior Vice President of Basketball Federation of India, who recalls the youngster’s “discovery”. This revelation is hilariously interspersed with footage that shows the academy’s hole-ridden roof. You begin to wonder about the game’s dismal state in India, given that the facility is quoted as one of the best in the country by Troy Justice, NBA’s senior director of international basketball operations.

Several moments hit home for viewers: 14-year old Bhamara being forced to play with a size-19 shoe sewn together from two other shoes (size 18 shoes were the largest available ones in India at the time), his loneliness during his first six months in the US, and his struggles with English for his first three years in Florida. The only words he could say at the time were, “Sorry, coach.”

The Punjabi sportsman’s lighthearted nature off court and his immense work ethic on it and in the gym make you want to root for him. Bhamara comes across as a shy, young man in a foreign land, far away from his family and coming to grips with linguistic and cultural barriers. When he first landed up in the US, he walked around with his head bowed.

Thankfully, Bhamara’s coaches at IMG Reliance offer an honest assessment of Bhamara as a “work in progress”. They also talk about a serious and dedicated individual who is willing to “run through a wall for you”. Even though most viewers will be aware of the conclusion, Bhamara’s tears after years of hard work and sacrifice culminating in a NBA draft pick cannot help but evoke a warm feeling for the big guy inside.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.