Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Darshan Kumar, Sunil Thapa
Director: Omung Kumar
A biopic which starts with the caveat `based on the life incidents of’ immediately makes you suspicious. Why not just say : ‘based on the life of’? Is it because too many cinematic liberties have been taken in the telling? In other words, is ‘Mary Kom’ really the story of Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, the champion boxer from Manipur, who’s done India proud? Or is it just another heavily-embroidered Bollywood movie?
After a point it doesn’t matter, and that’s where ‘Mary Kom’ the movie makes the cut. Priyanka Chopra who plays Kom, does a good job of getting into the part. You can see her striving for rustic chic, which contrasts with sudden svelteness. You can hear her accent slipping. In places, you can see the overhang of Hollywood boxing movies, more ‘Rocky’ than ‘ Raging Bull’. Despite these things, Priyanka Chopra hooks a mean left, and makes me root for Mary Kom, champion boxer, wife and mother.
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That’s half the battle won, and it is the crucial one. Because this film shows us just how tough it is for mainstream Bollywood to make a good, gritty sports bio-pic. A boxer, regardless of gender, gets bruised and bloody in the ring. Bones are crunched. It is a magnificent sport, its ugly folds hiding its beauty. Chopra’s ugliness and bloodiness is carefully done : it’s only as much as the filmmakers think we can handle without making us wince. Still, it’s something.
Mary Kom’s coach, played by Sunil Thapa, has the right burly physique for a pugilist. But Thapa is made to play him a tad filmi and broad : all the big life lessons Kom learns are delivered by him. `I lub boxing’, she says. `You have to give your life to it’, he replies, sonorously. And you flashback to the marvelously real Clint Eastwood as coach to Hillary Swank in ‘Million Dollar Baby’, another underdog female boxer film.
The best man in Kom’s life is her husband, nicely underplayed by Darshan Kumar. Behind every successful woman there may be a man, and that man, in Kom’s life, is not her taciturn ‘coach sir’, but her amazingly supportive spouse. Again, to see such a liberated ‘man’ makes you wonder if truly such a creature exists, or has he been made so for the sake of the movie?
Whatever, the message that goes out via their relationship is a worthy one : mothers are people first, and they do not need to give up on their dreams if they have the right partner. A scene has two men holding the two babies, and another message goes out : a father can be a perfectly competent parent, too.
The film gets bloated by extraneous songs. In its zeal to tell us how Kom is also a committed mom ( to an adorable set of twins , one of whom gets very sick) as well as a sportsperson, it tries too hard to tug at our heartstrings. And the climactic sequence goes on and on : a duel in the ring is automatically exciting, needing no schmaltzy revving up. There are also too-blatant product placements strewn right through, which distract from the story.
What it gets right is the kind of churlishness and mean-minded partisanship Indian sporting federations are beset by : the men ( and they are overwhelmingly men) who run it are not oriented towards the benefit of the players. Kom’s taking on one such official is a pointer : this is exactly how it happens, and that’s why there aren’t more champions in the country.
And it also gets right the main act : Mary Kom, inspirational world champion, shaking a glove.