India’s latest sport biopic works hard to inspire viewers but unfortunately does so while taking them by the scruff of the neck. More than subtlety, Omung Kumar’s Mary Kom relies on melodrama, a style which Hindi cinema often toys with but rarely gets right. The effort, while ultimately successful in drawing one to the edge of the seat, is not without flaws.
That Mary Kom is a commercial film is often palpable. Mainly, in the exhaustive list of sponsors among the acknowledgements before the screening and later through brand placements that people on Twitter might describe with the hashtag ‘facepalm.’
The biopic, as is clear by now, is about MC Mary Kom (Priyanka Chopra), a five-time boxing world champion and Olympic bronze medallist from India. With the support of her husband Onler Kom (Darshan Kumar), the boxer, who was once considered down and out, made a comeback to win two major medals. The episodic demonstration of Kom’s obstacles, including a father who objects to her boxing, a vengeful sports federation and an ill-timed pregnancy, seems rather breathless. It is a tough ask to pack in details from more than a decade of someone’s life into two hours, but greater discrimination could have been exercised in picking plot points.
Kom is stubborn, a song close to the film’s opening tells us. She is also short-tempered and quick to pick a fight. There is no hint to what might have caused the angry streak, though, and this makes Kom somewhat unlikeable in the beginning. But it also aids splendidly later in showing the contrast that motherhood brings in Kom. Chopra too does justice to this metamorphosis from tom boy to doting mother. The film does well in depicting her early boxing days, where the environs look credible and the characters voice real concerns.
Debutant Darshan Kumar is sincere in his performance, but the portrayal of Kom and Onler’s romance seems somewhat contrived. Going by the boxer’s autobiography, the two grew fond of each other gradually, a gentle detail the film loses in its boisterousness. The story gathers strength after the birth of Kom’s sons, when she reflects on her roles as a mother and an influential boxer. Chopra’s performance is especially impressive. The actor leaves behind the baggage of glamour and stays believable, even when yelling, glaring and flying at people.
The film is important in that it makes a worthy hero out of a woman boxer who struggled against the odds. But while Mary Kom is entertaining, it should have aspired to be more.