Streetkids United 3 – The Road to Moscow

If Jacco Groen’s title for his documentary seems a touch long, there may be a very good reason. The one-hour film follows a very special girls’ football team to a competition in Moscow. The team is drawn from desperately poor street children living in the slums of Chennai. They represent their country, India, in a world cup competition that brings boys and girls from similar impoverished backgrounds from around the world. We see their abject sleeping conditions in their home city, learn of their fears of abuse and trafficking, peep voyeuristically into their desperate family woes. But soccer provides succour and a chance to shine.

The movie begins with a voice over as one of the young players tells us “When you are in the womb, you have no idea where you will come out. I came out in Chennai”. She emerged into a world where caste matters, poverty is built into the social DNA and hopelessness is the norm. But these are feisty and very wonderful young people with the skill to kick a ball.

There is though a slightly uncomfortable feeling of redemptive experience in their encounters in Russia. At a reception at the grand British Embassy, H.E. asks if this is their first time in Moscow. Few of the girls had birth certificates let alone passports but the relentlessly cheery mood of the film didn’t ponder on the irony of this question.

The documentary begged more questions than it addressed. What kind of life will the girls return to once the competition with its flag waving, dancing in national costume and riverboat rides are over? There was a kind of ‘where are they now’ epilogue to the film which was cheerily upbeat. At no time does anyone in the film question what kind of societies (including our own – we see a team of English street kid players) tolerate such abuse of the vulnerable who have to survive sleeping rough on pavements.

We are told that the Moscow experience gave the girls a greater sense of self esteem and confidence. Absolutely fine but will that be enough to change their lives? And what about the millions of youngsters who can’t play football?

All that said there are many very touching moments in the film and the girls – especially their feisty captain Sangeetha- are funny and street wise. Once they returned to Chennai they became local celebs. That said, one can’t help feeling that the issue of street children is so tragic and enormously complex that a feel good film like this won’t help them. Maybe the title of the film should have been even longer.

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