Boxing films have always enthralled me. As a teenager, the Rocky series was inspirational. Raging Bull, the story of Jake La Motta, is probably the gold standard for all sports films, with Robert de Niro at his histrionic best. Other boxing films like The Fighter and Million Dollar Baby have also been captivating. Which is why I decided this Sunday to forsake my afternoon nap for Mary Kom. The multiple world champion’s story is a remarkable one, a mother of three, who put Manipur and India on the international boxing map.
It was an afternoon well spent. Priyanka Chopra puts in a strong performance, and there is much to admire in this brave film. Ok, so it is a bit melodramatic, yes, the dialogues are typical masala at times, the fight sequences a tad unrealistic. But then it is a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film so you don’t expect this to be really a raw and hard hitting biopic on the champion boxer.
And yet, the real story of Mary Kom is not just of the triumph of sport, but of Manipur too. No other state has suffered in the cross-hairs of insurgency as much as Manipur. Possibly, not even Jammu and Kashmir which atleast has the benefit of constant attention.
The government of India has treated Manipur as a forgotten step-child, a beautiful land but also a terribly tortured one. To think that it’s two role models are two courageous women: Irom Sharmila whose fight against AFSPA is symbolic of the state’s desire for normalcy. And Mary Kom, proud flagbearer of the Manipuri identity in sport and beyond. I just wish the film had reflected on Manipur’s multi-layered complexity a little more: a state which needs to register more firmly in the national imagination. And yet, it is reassuring to see Hindi cinema atleast attempt to explore new frontiers. It’s time we in the national media followed suit: is there any national newspaper or channel with a full time correspondent in Imphal?