Director: Omung Kumar
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Darshan Kumaar
Mary Kom is the loosely fictionalised account of India’s most famous female boxer. In a crisp two hours, the film tells us how the belligerent daughter of a rice farmer in Manipur became a five-time world champion. It’s a story of grit, passion and, as Mary’s coach says, “hamesha whole surrender to boxing”.
What powers the film is a remarkable performance by Priyanka Chopra.
There’s been a lot of chatter about debutant director Omung Kumar’s decision to cast a glamorous Bollywood star who looks nothing like the actual Mary. This could have gone horribly wrong, but Priyanka meets the challenge head-on. Her shoulders and arms are sculpted to look lethal. Her face is a fierce combination of rage and vulnerability.
In one scene, the selectors unfairly reward her opponent and Mary throws a chair at them. You can feel her frustration and hurt.
Omung also wisely surrounds Priyanka with largely unknown actors who contribute immensely in creating a convincing texture. Darshan Kumar as Mary’s husband Onler, Robin Das as her father and Sunil Thapa as her coach are very good. Though the film wasn’t actually shot in Manipur, Omung creates a believable world.
Where Mary Kom falters is in the screenplay. Biopics by design are about the highlights of a person’s life and, here, the narrative succumbs to ticking off milestones. Omung tries to give it variety by incorporating a flashback structure, but that doesn’t add much. We go abruptly from one pivotal moment to another — it’s a dramatic story, but the first half especially is inexplicably inert. The character is fascinating and yet her story doesn’t grip you.
Thankfully, the momentum picks up in the second half, once Mary gets married and has children.
But Omung and his writer, Saiwyn Quadras, also try to highlight too many issues — women’s empowerment, the shoddy treatment of athletes by government bodies, how ignorant most Indians are about the north-east, the difficulty women have in balancing personal and professional lives and, of course, the call to patriotism that runs through the film.
In the climax, Omung opts for high-strung melodrama and we are even asked to stand as the national anthem plays. I found it annoying. The emotion that compels viewers to stand has to be earned. You can’t just tell us to do it.
Despite its flaws, though, Mary Kom is a worthy attempt. The film has sincerity and has been crafted with care. Apart from Mary herself, it gives us a terrific male role model — Onler, who encouraged Mary to return to boxing while he looked after their twin sons. Has anyone given that man a medal?