Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Darshan Kumar, Sunil Thapa, Rajni Basumatary
Directed by Omung Kumar
Every Indian, or for that matter any sports film, has some essential tropes and arcs in common—the underdog coming out triumphant against all odds, snatching victory from near defeat, going from disgrace to redemption, fighting the circumstances as well as corrupt officialdom. Mary Kom adds two more layers to it. One is that of gender—how love, marriage and children need not come in the way of any sportswoman’s success. The other is political: how the much-neglected Northeast, specifically strife-torn Manipur, is as patriotic as any other state when it comes to playing for India and seeing the tricolour fly high. What is also implicit is that however much it may have given to the Indian sports, it hasn’t been quite as well recognised that it has, in fact, been at the receiving end of various prejudices.
The film is a biopic of Mary Kom, the most successful and best known woman boxer of India, and shows her journey from being just a ‘fighter’ to an accomplished ‘boxer’. The strokes do get a bit broad at times. For example, in setting up the 2008 Women’s World Amateur Boxing Championships bout (the return of Mary to the sports after eight long years) in the climax. Even while basing it on facts, the director does go overboard in making things over-emotional for the audience and reaching out to the patriot within them.
Largely, Mary Kom plays out as a simple, unpretentious tale that picks up and dramatises important incidents from the champion’s life. The frenzy and excitement of a Raging Bull or Million Dollar Baby may not be there. However, the essential message speaks out loud. That nothing can quite be a male or female fiefdom. That women can do just as well in a sports identified with aggression, brutality and bloodshed. There are also the believable frustrations, like when a successful career woman has to halt to bring up babies. As in most recent ‘women-centric’ films, be it Mardaani or Bobby Jasoos, it’s heartening to see the man become the wind beneath the woman’s wings, in this case Mary’s footballer husband Onler, played with assurance by newcomer Darshan Kumar.
There was much debate about why Priyanka had been chosen to play a Northeast girl, not an actress from the region. We may still discuss the authenticity (or the lack of it) of her accent, looks and her boxing chops but it is evident that she has given it all, right down to reducing weight to fit the 46-51 kg category of Mary Kom. It’s a sincere and earnest performance that brings out Mary’s cussedness and determination as well as her vulnerabilities, insecurities and frustrations. The freshest thing about Mary Kom is that after countless Delhi-Mumbai, Punjabi-Gujarati backdrops, we finally encounter full blown Northeast in a mainstream commercial film. Wasn’t it in Dil Se that it was featured last?