Reviews

Mary Kom: About the heroine, not the boxer

A still from the movie Mary Kom

A still from the movie Mary Kom  

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How desperate for audience empathy must you be to almost kill an infant to get tears from the audience? Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a biopic about a boxer? But director Omung Kumar is so insecure about his boxing climax that he decides to intercut it with an infant fighting for his life on the operation table.

A tiny peanut of a baby with a hole in his heart has stopped breathing when Mary Mom has been knocked out (almost, of course) far from home at a world boxing championship.

This has to go down as one of the most manipulative segments in the history of Indian cinema.

Oh yes, we are supposed to relax because it’s a Bollywood film and we can’t expect any less from it, especially from a Sanjay Leela Bhansali production (Bhansali is also the creative director and we can see his touch).

While biopics can be allowed cinematic liberties and the freedom of interpretation, how much is too much really? When does it go from “based on a true story” to “inspired from a true story”? This biopic is mostly inspired by the life of Mary Kom and hardly based on it.

Mary Kom was a modern woman with a mind of her own. Even a simple Wikipedia search will tell you that this fighter did not feel the need to quit boxing just because she got married. She continued fighting even after 2005.

Yet, the conflict here seems to say: “Oh God, she got married and became a mother! How can she box now? She is destined to havaldar jobs and fading away!”

The real Mary Kom never quit, married or not. To make her a quitter just for the sake of conflict and to use marriage as the obstacle is not only inaccurate but also regressive. To make a truly modern film and do justice to the spirit of Magnificent Mary, they ought to have shown the spirit with which she took pregnancy in her stride without making a big deal of it.

This daughter of a farmer had a mind of her own and fought a difficult system – a corrupt Federation, a patriarchal society, and the most aggressive of world champions – but to show her fighting this without a conflict would mean no interval block… And to show her fight without baggage in the climax would mean no audience empathy? These are assumptions the makers have made.

So what we get is a film with unwarranted, poorly manufactured melodrama that only reinforces old school beliefs – that it is indeed difficult for a woman to get back to her career after she gets married.

But P.C… Priyanka Chopra, like M.C. Mary Kom, is a fighter. She packs in quite a punch here. The spirited actress rises above the material and makes us invest in her. She owns the film and does full justice to the spirit of the world champion, making all that criticism about her casting irrelevant. Ask Mary Kom if she would have preferred a lesser-known actor from the North East to play her instead of Priyanka Chopra. The answer is a no-brainer.

The idea of making a biopic, after all, is to make sure more people know about the person the film wants to celebrate. We understand eulogising is a part of that package but making the person, and a cutesy Manipuri baby, suffer on screen just to win the audience over is a bit of a shame. Mary Kom deserved a better film.

Go watch it anyway to celebrate the heroine, if not the boxer. Well done, PC. Knockout performance, indeed.

Genre: Biopic

Director: Omung Kumar

Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Sunil Thapa, Darshan Kumar

Storyline: A three-time world champion needs to get back to boxing after becoming a mother of twins

Bottomline: Priyanka Chopra rises above a generic script, predictable treatment and an extremely manipulative narrative.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2018 2:17:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-reviews/mary-kom-about-the-heroine-not-the-boxer/article6382926.ece

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