YouTube channel KalPanthu’s series puts the spotlight on Kerala’s Sevens football

The documentary series hopes to capture Malappuram’s iconic Sevens football, in addition to featuring untold stories from across the country

The documentary series hopes to capture Malappuram’s iconic Sevens football, in addition to featuring untold stories from across the country

Sevens football is a popular format of football played with seven players on each team instead of 11 on a smaller field compared to a regular football stadium. Sports clubs across Malappuram, Kerala, and nearby areas host a number of Sevens tournaments during the ‘season’ that spans from December to April-May, some of which started 40 years ago. Smaller it may be but the fervour and passion matches that of regular football.

It is more than just a game for fans of the sport in Kerala’s Malappuram. It is a way of life for someone like Super Ashraf Bava aka Bavakka, former player and owner of the Sevens team, Super Studio Malappuram, named after his art studio.

A temporary Sevens football stadium at Vengara, Malappuram

A temporary Sevens football stadium at Vengara, Malappuram

Bavakka is featured in KalPanthu 7s Football, a docu-series by the YouTube channel KalPanthu which has been chronicling the sport and its culture on the platform since the beginning of this month. The series will document the people who form the ‘ecosystem’ around the format. It is not just a profile of players but also announcers, referees, and ‘arts and sports clubs’.    

While other places in Kerala have a Sevens culture, nowhere is it as strong as Malappuram. “Every evening people want to go out and watch a Sevens match,” says Nevin Thomas, freelance journalist and the man behind KalPanthu.

Sevens is so big in Malappuram that referees too have a dedicated following, says Nevin. The rest of the world caught a glimpse of this sporting culture in the Malayalam film Sudani from Nigeria (2018). “The movie is bang on…it shows how things are,” says Nevin, adding that people featured in the film, like Bavakka, are closely connected with the game.

Nevin Thomas

Nevin Thomas
| Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Nevin filmed the series over nine days with help from locals. He says the series gave him a chance to revisit, given that his thesis for his post-graduation at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was about the ‘social, cultural impact of Sevens Football in Malappuram’. “I could go back and see the changes. Things have improved now. For example, at the time [2014] I had found that there was no insurance for players, but now they register with the league and have insurance.” 

His YouTube channel came about after his failed attempts to find a platform to release his first documentary on football, which he made after he quit his job with a media outlet in Mumbai. It was about football in Vyasarpadi, known as Chennai’s ‘mini Brazil’.

He recalls the experience, “It was unforgettable. It was such an explosion of emotions, colour and diversity! The people were so welcoming and making the documentary was easy.”  

It is not just Vyasarpadi and Malappuram that get featured in the series. KalPanthu brings stories from across the country — Gujarat to Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra. KalPanthu also brings out a fortnightly newsletter, also dedicated to football, called Vuvuzela.

“Chasing a story is part of the thrill,” he says as he recounts his experience of looking for a school where girls were being coached in football in rural Gujarat. “Nobody seemed to know about it, but I eventually found it.” The payoff for Nevin is when these stories get the much-needed attention.

Nevin is passionate about football. It is a game he plays and the people he plays are his ‘community’. “I have always looked at the sport from a socio-political perspective Also, I get a kick from meeting people connected to the sport – footballers and the community.”

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