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Mary Kom
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by Jay Seaver

"Scores points, even if it seldom wins by knockout."
3 stars

"Mary Kom" opens with the title character going into labor in the middle of an armed rebellion in 2007, and that's the sort of thing that one might think would have been a bit of a bigger factor in a story which does come back to regional tensions later. It doesn't quite fit the inspirational sports narrative, which may be why it's pushed off to the side until it can fit that structure, albeit oddly. It's a good sports movie, although moments like that certainly highlight just how much it's playing from the standard playbook.

The dangerous streets cast her mind back sixteen years, when young Mangte Chungneijang Kom (Mridul Satam) finds a boxing glove in the wreckage after a plane crash in Kangathei, Manipur and becomes attached right away, much to the chagrin of her father Tonpa (Robin Das). Chungneijang grows into a pugnacious teenager, taking swings at her friend's crappy boyfriend, until the chase leads her (Priyanka Chopra) into a gym where she makes an impression on coach M. Narjit Singh (Sunil Thapa). She soon becomes one of India's top female boxers under the name "MC Mary Kom", meeting soccer player Onler (Darshan Kumaar) along the way. There are challenges, both in the form of corrupt federation official Sharma (Shakti Sinha) and motherhood.

There is a regular arc to this sort of movie - inspiration, commitment, championship, injury, comeback - and pregnancy is a different twist on the "injury" portion of that narrative. That the story is familiar isn't necessarily a bad thing, even if it likely does mean distorting the true-life story somewhat. It would be nice if it weren't done so nakedly; as much as real lives don't always resolve things in a way that fits tidily in a screenplay, the script by Saiwyn Quadras has a tendency to bring things up that are dramatic in the moment but not really explore them: There's never a sense of why Chungneijang is lashing out so much, for instance, and though there is occasional talk about discrimination and neglect toward Manipur versus other regions of India, it doesn't happen on-screen in an impactful way - the moments when this may be going on can come across as Chungneijang digging a hole for herself.

As a pure sporting tale, though, it works; Quadras and director Omung Kumar know the beats of this story and hit them in a satisfying way, so that even if you know the Mary Kom history, it still plays out with exuberance. The expected moments all play out, but the execution is very well-done; a soundtrack by Rohit Kulkarni, Shashi Suman, and Shivamm, in particular, keeps the requisite montages of training and accomplishment pushing forward in fine fashion. The actual boxing is more fun to watch than it usually is in these movies; it's stated early on that boxing is a game of points, at least at these weight classes, so the matches focus on skill, focus, and movement rather than just pounding away until the knockout, at least until the big rematch with a hissable German opponent.

And, in what may be a bit of a surprise, Priyanka Chopra is up for this. Her career hasn't just been playing The Girl in masala-style movies, but that does seem to be the bulk of it, and there are still moments in this one that may draw a cringe as she's a bit more glamorous than perhaps fits the part (I've also read that her Manipur accent isn't great, though it wasn't drawing laughs in the theater when I saw the film). She's in fighting shape, though, enough to sell the boxing and training fairly well, and not just as a variation of the dancing that she's more often called upon to do in other movies. She does a great job of balancing Chungneijang's toughness with her volatility; there are no half-measures in this woman, whether it be in anger or her exuberance after a victory, and Chopra puts that across without ever making it feel like the script is jerking her in different directions.

It's Chopra's show, so Darshan Kumaar's solid performance as the husband who quietly does what he can to support his wife's ambitions - and that Onler does this - is something that can be easily overlooked, although it really shouldn't be. Similarly, the obvious compare and contrast between Sunil Thapa and Robin Das as Chungneijang's father figures is a big part of what makes the movie interesting, but it does tend to overshadow what Rajni Basumatary adds to every scene she's in as the mother. The only real blemish on the cast of characters is Shakti Sinha's Sharma, a trollish villain certainly based on the sort of power-tripping jerk that exists in real life, but who feels more like an amalgam than a character.

The story of Mary Kom isn't over - she intends to compete in the 2016 Olympics - but it's followed enough of an arc to make for an enjoyable movie. It's not a big variation from the usual, sometimes to its detriment, but it does well enough investing the audience in its subject to be satisfying.

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originally posted: 09/08/14 03:56:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/02/16 arjun it's a very very very inspiring movie....all actor and actress are excellent...i impressed 5 stars
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  05-Sep-2014 (NR)

  05-Sep-2014 (12A)


Directed by
  Omung Kumar

Written by
  Saiwyn Qadras

  Priyanka Chopra
  Darshan Kumaar
  Sunil Thapa
  Danny Denzongpa
  Zachary Coffin

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