3 Stars (out of 4)
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With multiple world championships and an Olympic bronze medal to her name, Mary Kom can now add a Bollywood biopic to her impressive resume. Priyanka Chopra plays the title character in Mary Kom, an enjoyable chronicle of the Indian boxing superstar’s rise to the top.
Kom’s depiction in the film is flattering. Eager to find a better outlet for her hair-trigger temper, teenage Mary dedicates herself to boxing. With a natural aptitude for fighting, she faces little opposition in the ring. Her greatest obstacle is her father, who worries that no man will want to marry a woman who perpetually sports a black eye.
Dad needn’t have worried, as a local soccer player — Onler (Darshan Kumaar) — takes a shine to Mary and her shiners. After dating for several years, Onler proposes the night before a critical bout. Giddy and distracted, Mary nearly falters in the ring, leading her coach (Sunil Thapa) to question her commitment to the sport that defines her.
The second half of the film focuses on Mary’s return to boxing after giving birth to twin sons. The movie shows the challenges of leading a normal family life while training as an elite athlete, and the sheer impossibility of the task without the aid of a partner as devoted as Onler.
While the movie portrays Mary as a worthy national hero, it doesn’t shy away from her massive ego. Such extreme self-confidence is a necessary characteristic for any athlete who competes at an elite level. It’s not a characteristic most regular folks can relate to, but it’s a vital part of who she is.
The movie’s climactic fight scene is worth the price of admission, paralleling a personal crisis with a critical moment in Mary’s professional career. All of the film’s fight scenes and training montages are well done.
Director Omung Kumar shortchanges other aspects of the story that should’ve been shown, rather than just talked about. Mary complains about the substandard training conditions she and her fellow athletes are subjected to, but we don’t see her experiencing them.
Other scenes of great visual impact aren’t fully explained. Mary loses or has her passport stolen the night before her first international fight, and in response, she shaves her head. This is an act of great significance for a woman, yet it’s not made clear why she does it. It’s also unclear how she gets her passport back. All we see is a photo of her triumphant after the match.
The film’s biggest problem for international audiences is its failure to explain why Mary feels discriminated against because she hails from Manipur, a state in northeast India that shares a border with Myanmar.
My understanding of the issue — which admittedly mostly comes from Chak De India — is that Indians from the northeast who may have more Burmese or East Asian facial features are frequently accused being “less Indian” than those from central India. Given that Priyanka doesn’t especially resemble Mary, the film needs to make it clearer why Mary feels discriminated against.
Ultimately, Mary Kom does its job, entertaining and raising awareness of an important athlete in Indian sports history. There’s a good chance Mary’s story isn’t finished just yet. As noted at the end of the film, Magnificent Mary hopes to compete in the Rio Olympics in 2016.