Monday, 30th October 2017

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Mary Kom: Peecee packs a punch

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  • Published 6.09.14

Director: Omung Kumar
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Sunil Thapa, Darshaan Kumar, Robin Das
Running time: 124 minutes

Mary Kom the film is a boxing match in itself. On one side of the ring is the attempt to tell the story of India’s greatest boxer in as real a manner as possible. On the other side is the attempt to make a Bollywood blockbuster out of a biopic on an Indian sports icon a la Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. If you carefully hear the chants every time she is gloved up, all they are saying: “Maar Mary maar!”

Now, when you are making a biopic, you can choose which story you want to tell. The story of a girl making it big, the story of a girl from Manipur making it big, the story of a girl from India making it big, the story of an angry father’s girl making it big, the story of a mother of two making it big, the story of a girl who went up against the sports federation making it big. The choices for telling Mary Kom’s story are endless.

First-time director Omung Kumar and his writer Saiwyn Qadras want to tell all of those stories in the two-hour running time. And there lies the problem because all Mary Kom ends up doing is touch upon every story, but not go any deeper. Toss up a problem, solve it in minutes and move on to the next problem. That makes the film not only very episodic in nature, but never gives any arc to the overall narrative.

The film is almost like an extended version of the trailer and there’s this disconcerting feeling that despite watching a biopic on her, you hardly know anything about Mary Kom the person. Why was she so angry all the time as a teenager? Why was she obsessed with boxing? Why did she choose to have children if she knew that it would jeopardise her boxing career? Did she pick up boxing again because she needed a job to do? The film offers no answers as it hurtles from one chapter of her life to another.

Another huge letdown is that the movie is not in love with the sport at the centre of the film. When Scorsese made Raging Bull, editor Thelma Schoonmaker cut the boxing shots like a ballet dance. Closer home, why Bhaag Milkha Bhaag ran so well and ran so long is because of the way Rakeysh Mehra and team captured the sprints. There’s no such romancing in Mary Kom and you just get a ringside view of the action and you are never in the middle of it.

What works is Priyanka Chopra, who’s clearly invested a lot in being Mary Kom. Not just physically but the fierce intensity she brings to the part. You can see she really wants to keep PeeCee behind in the locker room and bare her acting knuckles. She succeeds largely despite the troubled screenplay and you really can’t imagine anyone else from frontline Bollywood wearing those gloves.

If Priyanka is the blockbuster pitch, the rest of the casting tries to be faithful to the roots of the protagonist. Faces hardly seen in Bollywood movies play major roles with mixed results. Veteran Nepali actor Sunil Thapa as the coach comes across as a little raw but that unrefined quality really stirs up the emotions. Darshan Kumaar as Mary’s husband Onler exudes no charm while Robin Das as Mary’s father is way too melodramatic for comfort.

Mary Kom is shown winning every bout she fights and the only time she loses, it’s blamed on corrupt officials. The final World Championship fight, intercut with her son’s operation, makes it a very strong finish and it’s a masterstroke to close the film with the national anthem.

This is clearly a eulogy to one of India’s greatest sporting heroes and even though the biopic only swims on the surface, mainstream Indian cinema has put the spotlight on a person from the so-called wrong gender, hailing from the so-called wrong region, playing the so-called wrong sport. And that’s reason enough to award the gold to Mary Kom.