Mary Kom is only two hours long, but it feels much longer. The morning after, and I still can’t decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. I went into the movie with extremely low expectations, and ended up being pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it is that, as with Mardaani, I’m able to forgive a movie a lot of flaws if it features a Strong Female Character.
Mary Kom has a couple of things going for it. The production values are extremely high. The cinematography is good – more visually interesting than I was expecting from a sports movie. But I think what won me over is the character of Mary herself – she is hot-tempered, stubborn, and prideful. I liked that they showed Mary wanting to go and compete, but also feeling bad about leaving her kids. I liked how unflaggingly supportive Mary’s husband Onler is shown to be. I liked that they showed the corruption within the Indian sports federation. And I appreciated that they made reference to the political situation in Manipur. Priyanka Chopra clearly put a lot of work into the role, and her performance is very good. However, the best intentions don’t change the fact that Mary Kom is Manipuri and Priyanka Chopra is… not. Of course you can argue that given the way the Indian movie market works, making a movie without a big star attached is commercial suicide. But I can’t help wishing that the filmmakers had taken inspiration from Mary Kom’s stubbornness and done it anyway, casting a Manipuri actress in the role. Throughout the movie, Mary and other characters reiterate that Manipur is part of India – and then the filmmakers go and cast a North Indian actress to play a Manipuri character. The irony of that makes me shake my head. The movie also gets too jingoistic at the end for my taste. The movie opens with Indian soldiers beating Onler after he and Mary venture out during a curfew because she has gone into labour. It ends with a montage of various characters singing along to the Indian national anthem. Again, the irony of that seems to have been lost on the filmmakers. Despite these flaws, Mary Kom is still a well-made sports biography, and a not-unwelcome addition to this year’s roster of movies featuring interesting women in the lead role.