When one goes to watch a sports film at a theater, it’s already prescribed in the mind of the viewer that the final scene will involve the protagonist having his/her arms high in the arm, triumphant in victory despite all the struggles they had to face through the previous couple of hours on screen.
This movie is no different.
..but not before Mary Kom hears from her husband Onler of her infant son having to go through a heart surgery, just five minutes before her World Championship final bout. Yeah, that’s right, five minutes before possibly, until then, the biggest match of her career.
A movie riddled with cinematic liberties
But of course, in true Bollywood style, Kom rises from an emotional and physical beating, to come out on top.
That’s where the film finishes. In 2008/2011. Kaput.
The confusion over which year the movie ends is down to the fact that the filmmakers have taken the liberty to combine two events that happened three years apart. 2008 was the year Kom won her first gold at the World Championships, post the birth of her twins, against her great rival Steluta Duta of Romania (Sasha Podolski of Germany in the film) in Ningbo, China.
It was only three years later that her son Nainai suffered from a problem with his heartbeat and had to undergo an operation for the same. The surgery was conducted only after Mary had returned from China after winning a gold at the Asia Cup, a tournament she entered having already known about Nainai’s illness.
Sure, cinematic leniency can be granted. But not to the extent where you showcase Barack Obama as a character in a feature about World War II.
The Olympics, anyone?
Wait, did I say the movie ends in either 2008 or ‘11? But it’s a fact that most folk who don’t follow boxing in the country got to know her only in 2012 because of her performance at the Olympics in London. You make a film about Mangte Chungneijang Kom and don’t add the part when she became just the third Indian woman to win a medal at the biggest sporting gala in the world? You don’t show quite possibly her proudest moment – carrying the Indian flag at the closing ceremony of the same Games?
If you’ve read Mary Kom’s autobiography ‘Unbreakable’, you’d realise that the most intriguing part of her life consisted of the hardships she had to face during her childhood. That was something that made the Olympic bronze medalist into what she is today. Growing up in penury is grim and may seem even more so on the big screen, but when done properly, it can make for some great cinema.
The movie almost completely ignores the early part of her life, apart from showing her cling on to a boxing glove by her bedside, the same glove she uses when she takes up training years later. What about the years in between? They make for a compelling read in the book, but absolutely none of it is mentioned in the film.
Disregard for realism
When a biopic is made, surely one of the things that should be high on the priority is realism.
Practicality is thrown out of the window here though. As if the finale wasn’t bad enough, in one scene, Kom is seen fighting a local pehlwan, and she then goes on to defeat him despite being less than half his size. While this gets you whistles and cheers from some viewers in a cinema hall, it makes the vast majority feel disenchanted by the disregard shown to a real-life story.
Talking of the pehlwan, he later reappears as a rebel who comes across Kom who’s in labour. A remarkable coincidence, which gives you the impression that the movie directors had been reading a lot of Khaled Hosseini’s works before working on the script.
The troubles in Manipur
One person who was an important figure in Mary’s life and who has been completely ignored in the film is her father-in-law Reikhupthang Kamang. When he was assassinated by the Manipur Komrem National Front in 2006, Kom almost gave up boxing, blaming her fame for his death.
At the same time, Onler was losing his mind and had even thought of joining the insurgency to avenge his father’s death. Surely, such an important occurrence in her career deserved some screen time. Instead, we get just one mention of Mr. Kamang, during the baptism of the twins, where one of them is named after Onler’s deceased father.
In the end, what could have been a film that could have inspired the nation ends up being a mundane masala flick. A respectful Jake LaMotta turns into a poor man's Rocky Balboa. A tale that could have reduced you to tears, doesn’t even manage to get a strand of hair on your body to stand in attention.
Mary Kom deserved better. Much better.