By James Zug
During the JPMorgan Tournament of Champions, one special event occurred 17 blocks north of Grand Central. It was a sneak-peek screening of Keep Eye on Ball: The Hashim Khan Story. Directed by Josh Easdon and produced by Beth Rasin, the documentary tells the biography of the world’s first global squash celebrity.
Three hundred and twenty people came to the Florence Gould Hall on East 59th Street for the first public preview of this long-awaited film. Two dozen of them were Hashim’s descendants, including sons Sharif, Charlie, Sam and Shauket. Also on hand were friends of Hashim from his Detroit days (Walter Oehrlein), current (James Willstrop) and former (Ned Edwards) top players and at least one other nonagenarian (Victor Elmaleh).
The film, 83 minutes long, was warmly received. Easdon and Rasin traveled around the world and the rich footage they got took the film beyond just a story about a squash champion and into issues about pre-Partition India, and the American immigrant dream and the nature of racism in the 1950s. Most of all, many non-squash experts were fascinated with the humanizing of a Pashtun like Hashim, giving texture and depth to a person whose tribe is more or less at war with the United States. The images of contemporary Peshawar—where Easdon and Rasin went for nearly a month—worked magically next to archival photographs of life there a century ago.
For North American squash players, Keep Eye on Ball is a history of the second half of the century and it performs a true service by collecting and preserving so much of our collective past—interviews with over fifty people on four continents including Diehl Mateer, Henri Salaun, Frank Satterthwaite, Sharif and Azam Khan and Jonah Barrington (who sometimes steals the show).
After the screening finished, Easdon, Rasin and Sharif spoke. Easdon remembered how he had called Hashim five years ago. “Hashim, I want to make a film about you.”
“When?” Hashim said. He was ready to go.
Easdon then introduced the 94-year-old Hashim to a warm standing ovation. Hashim said he had three things to say: “Josh worked hard for that movie,” “Second, he did a good job,” and “Third, he make the right movie.” He then described how it was impossible that a 44 year old could win the British Open but it did happen.
Easdon and Rasin have submitted Keep Eye on Ball to a half dozen film festivals, including Tribeca and Silver Docs, the nationally-renowned festival at the American Film Institute in Washington. They are holding similar screenings in Detroit in March and in Denver later in the spring and are planning to take the film to every urban squash program in the country as fundraising events. There is also a hope of getting it on a PBS station. Sometime in 2010 it will be also available for sale on DVD.