Tension, tact and the tenacity of two testosterone-toned bodies; boxing films are much more than that. Often, and like any other sports film, they focus more on life that transpires outside the arena. That is where the guru-chela relationships thrives and the underdog comes to terms with how he can either give it his best shot, or bite the dust.
In the wake of Toofaan, and ahead of Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai, here are the 5 boxing films you must watch. In no particular order:
1. Rocky (1976)
Sylvester Stallone wrote a hero for himself and history for boxing dramas with Rocky, spawning 8 more sequels in the ensuing franchise. The feel-good first instalment charts the evolution of Rocky from being just a journeyman southpaw to regaining the title of ‘Italian Stallion’. Between all of this, he works as a collector for a loan shark, falls in love, and trains for a final showdown to “go the distance” and disprove the image of himself as yet another “bum from the block”.
2. Raging Bull (1980)
This Robert De Niro-Martin Scorsese collaboration presents a grey character in a black-and-white film. Based on boxer Jake LaMotta’s autobiography, Raging Bull: My Story. LaMotta, the Italian-American flag bearer of zeitgeist 1940s American conservatism is played exhaustingly well by De Niro in an Oscar winning performance. Watch as an aggressive Jake boxes to the top and deals with the hubris that accompanies the windfall successes of of the sport.
3. Mukkabaaz (2018)
Streaming on: ZEE5, YouTube, Google Play
Using a sports drama to critique the corrupt and deeply political underbelly of a sports association is practically cliché at this point. Simply put, Mukkabaaz is not a new idea. But it revels in its execution. It is boxing, Anurag Kashyap style. It follows the journey of Shravan Kumar Singh a.k.a ‘Uttar Prades ke Mike Tyson’, who boxes his way to emancipation from underestimation, tyranny and caste. En route, he also falls in love with the deaf niece of the holier-than-thou baddie Bhagwan Das Mishra. The movie’s two-pronged approach not only makes you think not just about Shravan’s caste and boxing career but also about the recurring question of romance: Kya mukkebaaz dulhania le jayenge?
4. Saala Khadoos (2016)
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The multilingual Saala Khadoos is like Chak De! India, but instead of Kabir Khan, we get a Kabir Singh — sort of. Former boxer Prabhu Selveraj falls out of favour from the Sports Association of India, partly due to his stubbornness, partly due to dirty politics. His wife runs away with another boxer, and he’s left alone, falsely framed as a womaniser. When he’s transferred from Delhi to Chennai to look for new female talent, he finds and trains the aggressive rookie Madhi, a fisherman’s daughter, to fight at the national level. What does Madhi’s future entail? Romance, brawling or boxing? She must choose wisely, for her fate decides whether women’s boxing in this country has a future.
5. Southpaw (2015)
Streaming on: Netflix
Delinquent and delirious after his wife’s murder and estrangement from his daughter, boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses all hope. Southpaw is a classic, tear-jerking tale of boxer redemption and the fight for the glory that awaits at the end of a long struggle. Watch how Billy spars with his anger to re-train himself and get back in action to pack a punch. Also, look at Southpaw’s poster. Toofaan’s is identical.