Back in 2012 Olympics, Devendro Singh lost to Paddy Barnes in the 49-kg category. Devendro Singh was a phenomenon in that Olympics and his attacking game held him in good stead against his opponents. Even against Barnes, he kept throwing punches but in the end, he lost.
Covering that game, I was confused. Later, on second viewing, I understood, Devendro threw a barrage of punches but he landed none. The Irish kept his guard up and beautifully floated around to evade the 20-year-old Indian.
Watching the movie Mary Kom, I was reminded of that fight. Director Omung Kumar throws a lot of punches but sadly fails to land even a single one.
There were mixed reviews about the film – few raved about how brilliant it was while the rest, were disappointed. So, I decided to find out myself. The verdict – disappointing melodrama. Omung Kumar embarks on a journey of narrating the story of India’s greatest boxer ever, but dishes out a cheap ‘masala’ film on women empowerment.
Most of us knew the story of Chungneijang. In the film, she is an angry girl from a small village in Manipur who keeps fighting with rowdy boys in her town. She considers herself as a “phighter” and is as angry as Hulk.
One such street-fight leads her to Narjit Singh (Sunil Thapa), the man who coached the legendary Dingko Singh, who won the 1998 Gold at the Asian Games. If you thought, Chungneijang was angry, Narjit Singh eats angry for breakfast. And after 10 days of ignorance, he finally takes Chungneijang under his tutelage (Yep, signing up with a National coach is that easy!).
Then starts lets-conquer-the-world drama. Chungneijang becomes MC Mary Kom and waltzes her way to win three world championships. The film cruises through the entire phase with Vishal Dadlani crooning “Dil yeh ziddi hai” in the background because hey, it’s that easy you know.
The story has everything – an angry coach, a non-supportive family and an ever supporting failed footballer boy-friend, who teaches football to young kids, who’s chest trapping is completely wrong. He scores and celebrates by showing off his well sculpted abs and then asks Mary to marry him before her championship bout.
The proposal at the panipuri stall unsettles Mary and she almost messes up her fight against Germany’s Sasha, who reminds you of a certain Clubber Lang. But Mary gets her game on track – she throws a couple of ‘hail mary’ punches, seals the medal and the deal with Onler. Smooth, isn’t it?
Mary decides to marry but that makes coach-sir angrier (!). He goes on a rant and pulls off a desi Burgess Meredith version of a “women weaken legs” speech. But Mickey couldn’t stop Rocky and so couldn’t coach-sir. Boxing takes a back-seat because it’s time for Arijit Singh, romance and family life. It’s all happy-happy, until Mary finds about her pregnancy. The husband’s happy because this is the best goal that he has scored (yes, he says that!) but Mary calls it an off-side.
If you aren’t bored by now, the director cooks up some more drama.
Stung by oblivion, Mary decides to stage a comeback but coach-sir won’t help (Rocky III anyone?). He keeps peeping at her wrong preparations but never helps because, may be, he doesn’t care about his nose anymore. Mary loses, gets into a fight with the association, faces humiliation, apologises and then gets back with coach-sir to kick some real butt.
That’s the story. But that’s not the story. The story is about how dramatic it can be. Agreed, films need a few dramatic sequences to make the characters larger than life but Omung Kumar goes for broke and messes up every potential great sequence.
The street fight in the beginning – the fight between the tattooed Manipuri rebel and Chungneijang is bizarre and looks straight out of a patchy period drama. There’s no doubting the sequence but the shabby treatment makes it laughable.
Then there’s Sasha, the German fighter. Straight out of the Clubber Lang clan, she keeps glaring, rabbit punching and growls in the ring like a drugged animal.
But the husband tops it all. After playing Adrian to Priyanka’s Rocky for the entire film, he calls up Mary before a championship bout and let’s her know about their son’s condition. It might have happened in reality but on screen, it’s way too melodramatic.
Now let’s talk about the technicality of boxing. Every bout goes the same way – lose at first and then make a rousing comeback. There’s no change of strategy whatsoever. Never.
Coach-sir insists, in the beginning of the film, that Mary is a southpaw, i.e. she is a left-handed fighter, yet she goes on throwing hail mary punches with her right while only lands a couple of meek jabs with her left.
Footwork plays a key role in boxing. After Rocky’s loss to Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed made him dance to music to improve his footwork but coach-sir doesn’t believe in all that. Neither does the India coach. He sits with a laptop, plays a fight on Windows media player and says, “Look how fast she is! Look at her aggression!”
So what should we do, coach?
“It’s going to be a tough fight!” – He says in a stern voice. Come on, even Kabir Khan chalked out more strategies in Chak de India.
There were plenty more.
No one expected a Raging Bull or a Million Dollar Baby, but a taut script backed with some serious action sequences would have done the trick. Omung Kumar even messed up the training sequence – the best thing in the film – by overlaying an insipid “Salaam India” behind it.
Bhag Milkha Bhag was over-the-top but at least, it kept the spirit of Milkha Singh alive because Farhan Akhtar didn’t act. He ran, he ran real hard. Priyanka Chopra acts and over-acts but doesn’t box, even once. She purrs at the best.
The director tugs at the emotional chords and he will connect to most of India because right now, women-centric films are the toast of the nation. But Mary Kom deserved a film that depicted the struggles of women athletes in India; a film that saluted the excellence of the boxing legend and not one that cries out for sympathy.
Kumar fails to capture the spirit of Mary Kom. He fails to capture boxing, in turn fails to create magic because…“There’s magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.” – Million Dollar Baby.