At least once a day, 11-year-old Akash forgets that he has to help his father sell vegetables on the street. When Akash wears a jersey and troops into the Dribble Academy in Noida, he is an altogether different person, as Varun Tandon’s documentary Dribbling Dreams proves.
The seven-and-a-half-minute film traces the journey of basketball coach Pradyut Voleti and his Dribbling Academy in Gejha village in Noida, where he trains close to 300 underprivileged children in basketball. The documentary details the success stories of these children and highlights the significance of sports in their lives.
“Pradyut and I went to school together, and he is very passionate about basketball,” Tandon said. “Some of the children he is training come from houses with domestic and drug and abuse. In a way, these children got a cause to live and the sports became their purpose. More importantly, it gave these children a feeling of self-worth.”
Voleti graduated in clinical psychology, but his heart lay in basketball. “I got everything through basketball,” he says in the documentary. “Basketball means life to me.”
After training at the National Basketball Association in the United States of America, Voleti returned to India in 2012 to start the Dribble Academy. “I realised that Pradyut was adding so much value to the children’s lives, something that even education could not do,” Tandon said. “He was giving them that time to enjoy themselves and escape from their troubles.”
Tandon has around 15 short films and documentaries to his credit. His 2017 short film Syaahi earned a special mention at the National Film Awards. Syaahi is a moving coming-of-age film about a young boy who misplaces his novelist father’s manuscript.
Why did Tandon follow up the fictional film with a documentary? “When I was travelling after I completed Syaahi, I watched a lot of documentaries,” Tandon explained. “Today there is not a lot of difference between the narrative and documentary formats. A lot of filmmakers are approaching narrative fiction as documentary and documentary like narrative fiction.”
Tandon’s goal is to write stories without restricting himself to a single format, he added. “I write a lot and I have written some short stories,” he said. “The format depends on which story length it lends itself to. I do not see short films as a lower cousin of a feature film as many people do. If I have an idea that is better suited for the longer format, I will definitely make it into a feature film.”