Priyanka Chopra isn’t scared to look ordinary or battered for her art’s sake. Her role in the award-winning Barfi!, in which she played the adorable-but-mousy Jhilmil, or her role as a disturbed model in Fashion, earned her that badge of honour.
So you are slightly taken aback when you watch her biopic, Mary Kom. She brings to life the trials and triumphs of Indian five-time world boxing champion Marte Chung Chung Kong (later shortened as Mary Kom).
Chopra is willing to let go emotionally, but when it comes to looking bruised and bloody on the silver screen, she seems to have exercised a strange restraint. Whether it’s facing Sasha, her bloodthirsty opponent from Europe, or tackling the diaper duties of her twins at midnight, Chopra looks disconcertingly posh. Her fringe falls perfectly and her lips are stained ever so slightly brown. It distracts, but fortunately Chopra has enough charisma to blur those blips out. She gives a knock-out performance as the spirited boxer from Manipur, a troubled North East Indian state.
The movie begins on a dramatic note in Manipur’s capital Imphal — Kom is in labour but a curfew makes it difficult for her to reach the hospital. They manage to convince the state police to ferry them to the hospital but they get waylaid by angry militants. They are finally allowed to pass when one of the militants recognises Kom as Manipur’s top boxer. But the politics of her native land is just grazed upon as the focus shifts onto Kom and her life. Her father is a struggling rice farmer who’s convinced that boxing will ruin her face and scare away potential grooms. Her mother is a silent spectator to all that tension, but Kom is tenacious in her pugilist pursuit. Her transformation from an amateur with torn shoes to an aggressive boxer is swift. Perhaps, a bit too hasty, because you aren’t invested in Kom as deeply as you should be. The second half dwells on Kom and her transition from a boxing champing to a domestic goddess. It’s easy to identify with her you-can’t-have-it-all struggles. A particularly poignant scene emerges when Kom is shown travelling in a local bus and the passengers speak about her without realising that’s she is sitting in front of them. Her second innings as a boxer and her comeback is languidly captured. The physically gruelling sessions with her ageing trainer (Sunil Thapa) and Kom’s distaste for the corrupt state-run sports council is interesting but gets tedious towards the end.
The climax in the boxing ring (I wish we had more of that) redeems the film and takes it to a glorious finish. Actor Darshan Kumar, who plays Kom’s dreamboat of a husband Onler, provides good support to Chopra.
Watch Mary Kom if you are a Priyanka Chopra fan but if you are looking for some bloody boxing action, then you may be disappointed.