PK Banerjee – “So many people wanted to make a film on me. Ultimately, no one could.”
trailblazer : the first person to do something or go somewhere, who shows that it is also possible for other people.
PK Banerjee was a trailblazer in all sense. Whether donning the player’s jersey or wielding the coach’s whistle, he transformed our footballing landscape like no one else. The Indian football realm is much poorer without Syed Abdul Rahim’s Ustaad.
Film-maker Goutam Sen’s desire to immortalize PK Banerjee’s life through the lens of his camera remained an unattainable dream. The cruel grip of cancer mercilessly silenced Sen, robbing him of the opportunity to articulate the affection for PK that lingered within his heart, leaving a void of unexpressed emotions and unfinished narratives. Joshy Joseph later assumed responsibility for showing the procedure through which Goutam initiated the production of his incomplete final film. PK Banerjee was an individual who defied traditional norms, and his film simply had to embody the same non-linear essence.
As dusk settled in across a quiet football field nestled by the side of a bustling bypass, a car screeched to a halt nearby. In the midst of a busy city, a young boy, aged 10 or 12, was showcasing his extraordinary skills with the ball. With amazing control, he effortlessly juggled the ball, performing an impressive array of moves, smoothly shifting between his chest, head, and feet. There was a sort of excellence and expertise in him.
As the boy was lost in his captivating display, Pradip Banerjee, otherwise, PK Banerjee, stepped out of the car. A voice, echoing through the stillness of the field, called out, “Babu, Babu!”. The boy collected his ball in a hurry and ran away.
The scene transitions as the camera cuts to the streets of North Bengal. The camera glides through the narrow lanes. Amidst the lively surroundings, the same young boy crosses the frame and knocks on the doors of a house nestled in a quiet alleyway. As the door swings open, we get to see the interior of the house adorned with an impressive collection of trophies, cups, and medals, proudly displayed on shelves and walls. The gleaming symbols of achievement.
“This is where I started.”
In the midst of this remarkable display, PK Banerjee, is seated within the very same house. His hands rest on his chin as he gazes around. This humble abode holds the significance of being the starting point for Bannerjee’s remarkable story.
The setting shifts to a primary school in Bihar. A 14-year-old PK stands out, bursting with energy and enthusiasm, as he skillfully maneuvers the ball in the field adjacent to his school. In a seamless transition, the camera dissolves to a different time and place. We find ourselves immersed in the grand stage of the Olympics. The cheers of the crowd resonate through the air as PK Banerjee, takes center stage and scores a goal.
During the period when the Leftist Movement held Kolkata in its grip, a young PK, coming from humble beginnings, found himself in a city engulfed by political passion and intellectual discourse. The collective struggle against oppression and the aspiration for a society founded on equality become integral threads woven into PK’s narrative, highlighting the city’s distinctive socio-political context and its impact on his pursuit of footballing greatness.
“Before I scored my first goal for Railways against East Bengal, I carried anger and a strong desire for revenge. The society and the country I held dear had constantly insulted me and caused me pain every day”, said PK Banerjee.
They used to say – “Bihar er PK Banerjee, Kolkata e ashiya idur hoiya gieche (Bihar’s PK Banerjee has become a rat on his arrival to Kolkata!).”
“Why did you come here all the way from Bihar if you cannot play football?”
“You’re a bat, not a bird.”
A man, waging a brave battle against cancer, seeks a meeting with his idol, PK Banerjee.
“I have been a fan all my life. Please, somehow arrange for me to meet PK Banerjee,” he implores his doctor, his voice filled with earnest longing.
Responding to the man’s plea, the doctor reaches out to PK, who himself is grappling with illness and physical paralysis. Despite his own struggles, Banerjee agrees to meet the man.
A few weeks later, a phone call disrupts the doctor’s office. It is PK Banerjee inquiring about the well-being of the man he had visited not long ago. The doctor reveals to PK that the man had succumbed to his illness seventeen days prior, days after their poignant encounter.
In his final days, the man had expressed his regret, whispering, “If only I had met PK Da earlier, perhaps I could have lived longer.”
The doctor asks curiously, what did you say to the man that he said such a thing?
“Life and death are unavoidable, bound to occur without a doubt. There is no need to fear them. The exact number of days we have is unknown, so make the most of each day you live.”
These were also the words said by PK Banerjee to Goutam Sen, the filmmaker who aimed to document Banerjee’s life. It was a time when Sen, was fighting with cancer, and his days where numbered.
Sen had previously said that his film aimed to center around PK’s vocal tonic rather than his accomplishments in football. His vocal tonic.
“PK Da, now I am also a patient of yours. I have been diagnosed with cancer.”
“Dhurr dhurr, oshob kicchuna. (Phew, that’s nothing!). Keep up with your spirit. Ailments are nothing.”
His words bear a striking resemblance to his own life’s trajectory. Banerjee was forced to leave the game at the age of only 31 due to injuries. Nevertheless, his love for the sport could not be extinguished, and he returned back to the field after a two-year hiatus, this time as a coach.
His vocal tonic served as his most potent weapon as a coach, transcending conventional tactics and man-management skills. It was this unique vocal tonic that elevated him to the revered position as a coach that he held across the entirety of India.
The camera now transitions to a room filled with chatter. PK Banerjee is engrossed in a lively conversation with his colleagues, including Surajit Sengupta and Pintu Choudhury. They engage in a candid discussion, fondly reminiscing about the past.
“PK Da, do you recall how you pulled off that incredible move?”
Banerjee’s attention drifts away momentarily, catching sight of the same young boy standing outside the door. He excuses himself from the ongoing conversation and steps out of the room.
“Hey, what brings you here?”
30th August, 1960, Rome Olympics.
India vs France.
Captain PK Banerjee etched his name forever in Indian football history, when he broke the deadlock with a goal in the 71st minute. However, the resilient French team, led by Gerard Coincon, refused to surrender, leveling the score ten minutes later. France finished fourth in the European Championships the same year, and finished third in the World Cup two years back. India had earlier faced a formidable Hungarian side, succumbing to a 2-1 defeat and then a dominant Peru team, but, a 1-3 loss sealed their fate of a group stage exit.
Yet, despite their eventual exit, the spirit of the Indian team and their memorable performance against France remain etched in the memories of fans and spectators alike, a testament to the lasting legacy of the team’s achievements. All thanks to PK Banerjee’s incredible goal.
28th October, 1973, Delhi Cloth Mills Trophy Final.
East Bengal vs Dok Ro Gang.
Six years had passed by since PK Banerjee hung up his boots, bidding farewell to a glorious playing career. Now, as the manager of East Bengal, he embarked on a new chapter in his footballing journey. With a wealth of experience and accomplishments already under his belt, including leading the Indian National Team to an Asian Games bronze medal and clinching the prestigious Pesta Sukan Trophy, Banerjee had already cemented his place as a top manager in Indian football.
The Dok Ro Gang side, which had as many as nine players coming fresh off the World Cup, had recently made headlines by thrashing Leader’s Club, one of India’s top football clubs, with a resounding 7-0 victory in the quarter-finals of the DCM Trophy. Novy Kapadia, renowned football commentator, shared an intriguing anecdote about his halftime visit to the North Korean side’s dressing room during that historic match. With the score already at 6-0, Kapadia had appealed to the North Korean players to show mercy and refrain from further humiliating their opponents.
The stage was now set for a grand finale as PK Banerjee’s East Bengal prepared to take on the formidable and mighty Dok Ro Gang in the DCM Trophy final.
PK had two days to prepare his players for one of the toughest games in their career, and so he did. Kapadia continues in his book “Barefoot to Boots“, atop the rooftop of the Duke Hotel in Daryaganj during the DCM Cup, PK Banerjee would often gather his players for insightful theory classes. During one such session, a unique incident unfolded, leaving a lasting impact on the team’s spirit just before the final game.
PK brought forth a collection of glass bangles and distributed them among his players. His aim was to kindle a flame within their spirits, serving as a reminder that opting out of the battle and relinquishing their fighting spirit was akin to wearing bangles, a symbolic act linked to the notion of cowardice according to PK. While such a move would undoubtedly spark controversy in today’s context, at that time, PK Banerjee’s unique approach “vocal tonic” proved to be effective. He employed his “vocal tonic” not only on his own players but also on the supporters of Leader’s Club. Through his persuasive words, he managed to rally them to support his team, invoking a sense of national pride in them.
East Bengal stepped onto the field with unwavering determination, thwarting every attempt by the Dok Ro Gang to find the back of the net. With the match ending in a hard-fought 0-0 draw, both teams prepared for a rematch the following day.
Undeterred by the challenge, East Bengal showcased their resilience once again, successfully maintaining a clean sheet. However, the North Korean side refused to continue into extra time, resulting in PK Banerjee’s team being declared as the victors of the prestigious DCM Trophy. It had been four long years since an Indian team had hoisted the coveted trophy, as Esteghlal from Iran and April 25 SC from North Korea had claimed victory in the previous four editions.
PK Banerjee not only used his vocal tonic, but also showcased his tactical genius against the formidable Dok Ro Gang. He orchestrated a formidable 4-5-1 formation, strategically aiming for midfield dominance and suffocating the opposition’s players in the heart of the pitch.
The North Koreans stood in awe of the Kolkata team’s remarkable display, so much that their embassy in Delhi diligently recorded the matches and sent them back to Pyongyang for study and analysis. Banerjee’s masterful tactics and the team’s captivating performance left an indelible mark on the history of Indian Football, resonating far beyond the boundaries of India.
Enshrined in Indian Football history, the two games mentioned above stand as the pinnacle of PK Banerjee’s illustrious career, etching his name as a legendary figure both on the field and on the sidelines.
Reflecting upon the epic encounter against Dok Ro Gang, Banerjee fondly remarked, “I regard it as my greatest victory. But my favourite? Oh, I can go on and on…”
The goal against France was Goutam Sen’s favourite.
With a gentle stride, PK Banerjee walked along the verandah of his house, the passage of time evident in his frail and weathered form. As he gazed down from his balcony, a bustling and vivacious bazaar unfolds before his eyes, vibrant with a myriad of colors. The air is filled with the energetic voices of hawkers, passionately hawking their goods.
The camera now transitions to the same young boy, skillfully maneuvering a ball with precision and finesse as he dribbles across the verandah, out of the frame.
Goutam Sen documented PK attending one of the training sessions of the kids that his younger brother Prasun Banerjee was training. Accompanied by a stick in his left hand, and a nurse by his side all the time, PK had some words of encouragement for the youngsters. As Prasun was displaying his remarkable skills at juggling the ball, PK said, “Prasun’s proficiency in juggling the ball doesn’t stem solely from being my younger brother. Every one of you can do this. Every Hindustani can do this. You just need to have spirit and power. That is all it takes.”
“Rely on your own abilities and banish all your doubts. Release all fears.”
“Football is not a game of love. It is a tactical battle. Imagine if we played the match against Pele’s Cosmos with an attacking mindset. They would have showered us with goals. Pele told me at dinner – You did not allow me to play.”
“It was not some charity. I would leave no stone unturned in a game of football, it is a war.”
“That is my philosophy. I always told my boys that there’s no way they will lose and they should not even think about losing. Never.”
“Goutam, how do want to conclude the film on PK Da? What is your last shot of the film?”
“Well, you know, the flow of life goes on and on.”
On a Sunday morning, bathed in the warmth of the sun, Banerjee embarked on his customary morning stroll, a cherished ritual that he never failed to observe. He seldom mused with his friends, “Those with the same paralysis as me are bed-ridden. Yet, here I am, look at me!”
In the park, a group of children are playing a game of football. Banerjee makes his way toward the youthful gathering, in his own customary way.
“Ho ho, you don’t know how to kick the ball. Hey, look here let me teach you, hey here look….”, he exclaims with a mischievous glint in his eye.
However, PK suddenly finds himself standing alone in the vast expanse of the park. The once vibrant surroundings fell into an eerie silence, as if frozen in time. The park appears desolate, devoid of life, with the children nowhere near.
Far in the distance, that same young child sits in solitude. Rising to his feet, he tenderly waves goodbye to PK and leaves.
Watch Joshy Joseph’s entire documentary in Bengali – “A Poet, A City and A Footballer” here. Goutam Sen’s film never materialized, and we are left with only his thoughts and ideas. This was an earnest endeavor to honor the legacies of both Goutam Sen and PK Banerjee on the birthday of the latter. Happy Birthday, Ustaad.
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