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The Rules of the Game

“Life is a game, badminton is serious” a badminton slogan says. This motto perfectly sums up the content of the present work, in which I am going to explain how I drew on the feeling of disorientation and misplacement I felt when I played badminton for the first time with my boyfriend and a group of Indian people I had never met before, and turned it into a scene for my feature film The Power of Ganesh. The film tells the story of an adopted Indian-Italian lawyer who is sent to work on an adoption case in India where she gains a deeper understanding of herself, her adoptive parents and her birth mother.

The feelings of disorientation and misplacement have to do with the realization that the people who surround us have expectations about us and, when we interact with them, we have to decide whether to try our best to meet their expectations or to challenge them and engage in a battle which is played in the subtext. In a badminton match this battle is played on the court, through smashes and dodges.

Badminton is a racquet sport played using racquets to hit a shuttlecock across a net. The game developed in British India from the earlier game of battledore and shuttlecock and it is now extremely popular in Asia, especially in India and in China, but not in Europe. Badminton is a relatively affordable sport so everybody can play, regardless of their financial situation. This aspect of badminton is relevant and intriguing, since it makes it possible for players to express their identities as people and to be considered as equals on the badminton court.

The popularity of badminton in India derives from the fact that Indian children grow up playing in the open air, playing either cricket or badminton, differently from what happens in Western countries, where children spend most of their spare time watching TV or playing video games. In India, badminton can also be a family sport, a social event to which every member of the family takes part. Parents teach their children how to play badminton and they are supposed to do the same with their children, generation after generation. On the contrary, badminton is not so popular in Italy, where people are generally more knowledgeable about football which, differently from badminton, is mainly played by men. On this note, even as far as the gender aspect is concerned, badminton makes far less distinctions between men and women than football, since, differently from football, badminton is not so much about strength but it’s about coordination, speed and strategy instead. This is the reason why Indian women are generally expected to be able to play badminton, just like men.

One day I went to play badminton with my boyfriend and a few friends of his. Everybody had been born and raised in India except for me so I was the only one who had never played such a sport. I found myself in the situation of not meeting other people’s expectations, since they expected me to be able to play badminton just because I looked Indian. As a result, at first I felt frustrated about the fact that my appearance was influencing the perception that the other Indian players had of me as a person. On the basis of my “Indian look”, they were making assumptions about my identity, automatically concluding that I was one of them, that I was able to play badminton and to speak Hindi. The fact that they stopped talking to me and that they stopped throwing the shuttle at me during the match only increased my frustration. So I turned that disappointment into determination, I teamed up with my boyfriend to try and learn as fast as I could and I did my best to win the match.

I incorporated this experience into my feature film and I wrote a scene in which Priya goes to play badminton for the first time with her colleague Deepak and his Indian friends. Since she has never played badminton before, he has to explain to her the rules of the game, exactly in the same way in which he explains to her “the rules” of Indian society.

During a badminton match, the goal of each team is to win and, especially in mixed doubles, a good strategy is essential to achieve satisfying results. I find the connection which Priya and Deepak establish as partners during the badminton match very interesting and fascinating. In fact it displays two different goals, because Deepak’s objective is to teach Priya how to play and “to protect” her (taking the opponents’ smashes on her behalf, for example) whereas Priya’s objective is to fit in the group, but it also suggests that they are united by a common goal, which is winning the match. And this is what sport, but also life as a couple, is all about: teaming up, becoming one and facing external challenges together. Just like I did with my boyfriend, Priya and Deepak team up to win the match and, on a personal level, they team up to overcome obstacles in life.

“Life is a game, badminton is serious”. This is really the case in The Power of Ganesh, where Deepak explaining to Priya the rules of the game of badminton overlaps and intertwines with him explaining to her the rules of life in India and teaching her how to behave and live in the Indian social environment. Moreover, the kind of relationship that Deepak and Priya establish as a couple on the badminton court is also very close to the kind of connection that they establish not only in the professional field but also in real life as a couple. Ultimately, from a more personal point of view, my own experience with badminton is an example of how real life influences the writing process and how writers get inspiration to create their stories from real life events and experiences. Writers, and artists in general, go through so many experiences every day like everyone else but, differently from everyone else, they have the special sensitivity it takes to process them, learn from them and express those teachings in their work.

India’s Jwala Gutta (R) and Diju Valiyaveetil return a shot to England’s Gabrielle White and Chris Adcock during their mixed doubles match at the 2010 Badminton World Championships at the Coubertin stadium in Paris, August 23, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files