And on went Vibrant Vinay and I, long afternoons of boredom quenched by cupcakes, coffee and three hours of Hindi film goodness. Cue our latest find – nestled in the warm embrace of Netflix – the true…ish story of Indian women’s multi-champion boxer, Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte – known in sports and marketing circles as Mary Kom.
Tangibly cobbled together with more than the usual dramatic licence, this is terrific fun. But be sure to turn off your brain and let out your emotions. It involves watching Priyanka Chopra as Chungneijang: a girl of ferocious ill-temper and street battles with all-comers, noticeably boys who regret the encounter. She lives with her family on a farm in (it seems) remote and belittled Maripur. Her dream is to be a boxer; her father’s dream is for her to shut up about the boxing and do something more reasonable instead. I was the same with Jacketta back in her days of archery aspiration. One dead dog and a blind sheep later and she moved on; not so Chungneijang who finds the strength within herself when fighting a local wrestler to get back the family cow. Basically, she is the reluctant parent’s worst nightmare – the kid who makes a success of her rebellion.
She hits upon every sports movie cliché: a gym! A grumpy mentor (Sunil Thapa knows how to be angrily enigmatic)! A long wait before she’s allowed to join in! Joining in, but with nicely placed bruises so her deeply pleasing face still shines through! The only real risk in her life is montage-poisoning, Mary Kom slipping through several sets of plaintively sung sequences when the story needs speeding up.
Anyhow, Chungneijang reaches the locals, heads to the nationals (or possibly the Olympics, I lost track and don’t really do sport…)…pissing off her Dad along the way. He has such a beautifully expressive face it should be patented. The moment he has a dark and unwise moment and asks her to choose between him or boxing…oh, the shock and sadness. It takes a few more scenes and her win at the Olympics for them to make up. We cheered and wept and offered up adorability cupcakes to Robin Das.
Then, having been sweetly pursued by Darshan Kumaar‘s Onler Kom, not least bonding over the best joke in the movie (there’s a motorbike, a break-down and a promise this isn’t on purpose – you’ll know it when you see it), Chungneijang marries and gets pregnant. Oh yes. Mystic old grumpy coach gets angry. In short, there’s always an old man in a piss at her.
Out pop the kids, her aspirations get paused, but Onler always promised he would never ask her to quit boxing. So…you work it out. There’s a medal room sequence from at least ten other films in there…
Mary Kom is nicely played, largely linear as biopics are wont, with the real point lingering under the adventure. You can feel Chungneijang’s fight with her Dad, her coach and the caricatured Indian boxing association making cultural points about women. That this is balanced with her use of her own demons to join and later rejoin the sport is something of a wonder. Makes me feel mellow, mind – age is a great healer.
Chopra is terrific and gives an easy, accessible performance that never fails to catch the eye. And, okay, Vinay and old Jack admit to being a bit in love with her. Particularly during the training sequences which were set in stunning countryside. Chopra’s cast mates – Dad, husband, coach and victims – frame her performance with just the right levels of character, energy and charm.
But… despite Vinay and I sitting in tears at several points in the story, the linearity is a bit exhausting and the final sequence had us squinting in disbelief. Drama threatens to become melodrama at least twice before the last bout, and then…hmmm… whether true or not, the writer plainly went mad and thought no-one would notice the intercutting of near-tragedy and bloody-near-tragedy plays out like a bad panto. Chungneijang is trapped abroad, obliged to fight, while Onler deals with stuff that would have had me running to the airport yelling fuck the lot of you… Chopra makes it work, just.
Get thee to Netflix for some sporty fun, a beautifully telling father-daughter moment, and a whole lot of flash-bang-wallop for your buck. All told in a very straight line.