India Insight

Representing Manipur: Priyanka Chopra on playing Mary Kom

Priyanka Chopra is not a Bollywood actor who waits around for assistants to mic her up, set a TV camera’s white balance and tell her where to look during an interview. When I met her on Tuesday at a posh hotel in Gurgaon, she used the paper I brought with my questions on it for the white balance, told the assistant how and where to set up the mic and opened a bottle of cough syrup, sparing the poor staffer who was struggling with it for her.

“I can get things done,” she said. Indeed, the latest evidence that the 32-year-old superstar is telling the truth is her portrayal of Mary Kom, the Olympic medallist and five-time World Amateur Boxing champion who comes from the far-flung state of Manipur in India’s northeast, an area that is far away from the heart of the country and home to many of its ethnic minorities.

The decision to cast Chopra in the role of Kom has led to accusations that the film’s producers preferred to go with a bankable star rather than another actor from Manipur or elsewhere in the northeast, and has prompted a new round of discussion about the nation’s marginalizing of people from this region. Chopra discussed this and other aspects of playing Kom in our interview.

(Answers have been edited for clarity)

Q. How do you portray a real, living person? Are you left with any creative licence?
A. Of course you can’t imitate or mimic someone … I spent a lot of time with her. I got to know her, and the character that I play is my projection of what I have understood as Mary Kom. I don’t know how right or wrong it is, but according to me it’s the closest I could be to what her personality is.

Q. Wasn’t this movie challenging? On a physical level as well as others?
A. It was very, very challenging at many levels, you are right. But I like things that push me. It’s a film that I know, if I go wrong, then it would be really hard on me because I have put two years of my life into this. But fingers crossed, all that I had has gone into this movie as a creative person.

Rumours trigger panic-buying of salt in northeast India

Rumours of an impending salt shortage led to panic-buying in India’s north-eastern states and parts of West Bengal state on Friday, officials and media reports said, with a kilo of salt being sold for as much as 200 rupees ($3) compared to average retail selling prices of about 20 rupees (around 35 cents).

Witnesses reported people queuing up at grocery stores to stockpile salt packets, with several shops running out of the usually cheap and plentiful product a day after similar rumours surfaced in Bihar state.

On Thursday, the Bihar state government said that there was abundant supply of the condiment after panic-buying in several districts and state capital Patna following rumours of a reduced supply from Gujarat state, India’s biggest producer of salt.

Military personnel who rape in India’s conflict zones should be prosecuted: committee

The Justice Verma Committee, set up to review India’s legislation following the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi last month, released its recommendations on how to make the country safer for women last week.

Among the issues which the panel addressed was a “neglected area” concerning sexual violence against women in areas of conflict.

The committee recommends stripping security forces of special immunity that they enjoy in conflict areas in cases of sexual assault on women, and bringing them under the purview of ordinary criminal law.

Manipur blockade highlights India’s northeast dilemma

An entire state held to ransom for the past three months. And a central government that seems helpless to stop it.

Naga groups on Tuesday said they were extending for another 25 days their blockade of the two highways linking landlocked Manipur to the rest of the country.

This follows almost consecutive 20 days and 69 days of similar blockades, leaving the northeast state surviving on army-escorted supplies for the past three months.

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