Two things-Iodex and our national anthem-ruin whatever little involvement there is with the true life of boxing champion, Mary Kom. The former makes you see Priyanka Chopra switch from Manipuri, boxer woman, Mary, to Priyanka the model, wearing an off shoulder top, promoting the oldest balm around, Iodex. The latter forces you out of your seat to join the patriotic moment, in a bid to salute the spirit of five time world amateur boxing champion, Mary Kom.
The film, Mary Kom, is scattered with moments like these. Throughout, you switch between strong glimpses of the real and feisty Mary Kom in Priyanka’s performance and Priyanka, the star. When she talks and sometimes screams in frustration in Manipuri sounding Hindi, the emotions touch a deep chord. When she holds up her red-gloved hands and dons a red headgear, juts out her over full lips and throws punch after punch at her opponent in the boxing ring, it is the well-orchestrated scene that pulls you in and be part of the cheering crowd. When she suffers the deepest humiliation at the hands of a selection committee secretary, Sharmaji (her lone, slim, black suited back (wonderful dramatic shot), and somehow reminds you of the starry charisma of Shah Rukh Khan. You now root for Priyanka the star and actor, not Mary Kom, the champion and mother struggling to regain lost sports stardom.
As far as Biopic comparisons go, Mary Kom has a far more superior storytelling than Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The entire credit here goes to the first time director, Omung Kumar and his writer, Saiwyn Qadras. Perhaps, also some to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, creative producer, for not influencing the film with his fantasy sets. The use of realistic local actors lend an authentic tone to the film. In terms of actual events and incidents, there is very little material to dramatise about Mary Kom. Her conflicts are those faced by every woman who wants to be an achiever; those of a daughter going against her father’s (Robin Das) will, a wife against her coach, Narjit Singh (Sunil Thapa), a mother against her innate motherhood challenges.
The film opens in a curfew hit Manipur. A heavily pregnant Mary is in the throes of labour while husband, Onler (Darshan Kumar, cute and believable) struggles to get her to a hospital amidst riots and police firings. The screenplay jars as it moves back and forth from Mary’s own childhood and her strong desire to learn boxing much against her father, a simple rice farmer. When she does move on to winning her first Gold despite a meager diet of Government sponsored ‘kela and chai’, it comes across, like a predictably orchestrated proud lump-in –the –throat moment when her father sits along with other villagers, in front of the TV, cheering her on.
The film moves on to Mary Kom’s marriage and motherhood affecting her career. There are dramatic and powerful moments thrown in, to bring out anti Manipur biases amongst selection committees. Priyanka is at her best here, frustration and anger writ in her face and voice. Scenes showing Priyanka as a mother, feeding two twin babies and fretting over their well being, are a little unconvincing and more amusing than anything else; particularly one where Priyanka is shown with one baby tied against each shoulder, at the back.
Just don’t go expecting to see the real Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom in Priyanka Chopra. Instead, enjoy an inspired story that deserves to be told. With Bollywood embellishments.