Movie Review: Mary Kom

September 5, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

At a crucial point in Omung Kumar’s biopic of MC Mary Kom, the boxer’s husband urges her to get back to the sport after giving birth to their twin sons. He eggs her on to train while he handles household responsibilities and in one scene, tells his wife to have a glass of milk to gain strength. Mary Kom stops him right there and says, “Don’t add any sugar, I am going to use Sugar Free.”

A still from "Mary Kom"Immediately, any empathy you were feeling for this character and her struggle is lost. Kumar’s retelling of one of India’s sports success stories is replete with such examples. Not only do they take away from the story’s authenticity, but also cheapen Mary Kom’s real-life struggle, reducing it to a hackneyed Bollywood script.

Mary Kom’s story starts from the time she’s an angry teenage schoolgirl picking fights with her classmates. She stumbles upon a boxing coaching centre and a coach who trains her. Kumar chronicles her rise on the boxing circuit, her love story with football coach Onler (played by Darshan Kumar), and her return to the ring after the birth of her twin sons.

Kumar takes cinematic liberties galore, but even those do not heighten the drama or increase your interest. Random incidents are strung together to form a story, but Kumar tries too hard to get the tear ducts flowing, resorting to gimmicks such as showing her son nearly dying while she is in the finals of the World Championship (this did not happen in real life).

The backdrop of Manipur, its long and troubled history with insurgency and the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) is completely neglected in “Mary Kom” – it could be taking place in any small town in India for all the context the director injects.

A still from "Mary Kom"In Kumar’s version, Mary Kom trains in picturesque locations, among mountains and streams. This then, must be what Sanjay Leela Bhansali (credited as the film’s creative director), known for his fantastical love stories, must imagine sports training to be like. The grit, the grime, the sheer hard work that goes into making a sportsperson is missing and is replaced by unnecessary melodrama (such as a completely over-the-top scene with a boxing official who demands an apology from Mary Kom and humiliates her).

The only person who actually empathises with what Mary Kom must have gone through seems to be actress Priyanka Chopra. Her performance is completely committed and the saving grace of this otherwise mediocre film. Even though her physical appearance is nothing like the real-life Mary Kom, Chopra manages to get inside her skin, and gives you a couple of genuine moments in the film. The rest of the time, she tries but fails to rise above the clichéd script (by Saiwyn Quadras).

Just like “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, “Mary Kom” neglects the sport at the centre of the story and resorts to cheap tricks. Mary Kom is a travesty of a movie because it misses an opportunity to tell a great story, and dumbs it down to such an extent that every nuance, every bit of context and every bit of truth is obliterated.

(Reuters interviews with Priyanka Chopra and Darshan Kumar)
(Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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