The Bollywood biopic on Indian boxing ace Mary Kom, starring Priyanka Chopra, encapsulates her early career before she became an Olympic medallist.
The trend of modern-day Bollywood sports biopics took off with the hugely popular Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in 2013. And it wasn’t long before Mary Kom - a film based on six-time world champion Indian boxer MC Mary Kom's life – followed on screen.
The 2014 film, celebrating the life and accomplishments of the six-time world amateur boxing champion from Manipur, was a runaway hit at the box office. It raked in Rs 104 crores despite being made on a relatively small-budget of Rs 18 crore.
So what was the movie all about? Here’s a look at the story behind the Mary Kom biopic.
The Mary Kom movie was directed by Omung Kumar, who made his directorial debut with this film. Sanjay Leela Bhansali was the producer.
Bhansali’s involvement with the project was particularly surprising. The Padma Shri winner is primarily noted for producing or directing big-budget grand scale dramas like Paadmavat, Devdas and Saawariya.
However, the national award-winning filmmaker himself admitted later that the opportunity to retell the story of an iconic figure like Mary Kom was impossible to pass on, even if it was uncharted territory for him.
Given Mary Kom’s quiet and powerful demeanour, it was a challenge to find an actor to play the ace boxer. Eventually, Priyanka Chopra was roped in to play the role.
Darshan Kumar was cast as Mary Kom’s husband, Onler Kom while popular Nepalese actor Sunil Thapa took up the mantle of her coach and mentor M. Narjit Singh.
Priyanka Chopra is known for her versatile acting skills and has a proven track record of playing challenging roles both in Bollywood and Hollywood. But even the Quantico star describes Mary Kom as possibly her hardest endeavour, although a personally gratifying one.
This was about determination, focus, diligence -- it is a lifestyle, a religion, to be a sportsperson. For me, this experience was spiritual,” - Priyanka Chopra
“I will never be a sportsperson. I will never be able to represent my country in a competition. As an actor, I got this opportunity to feel that,” Priyanka added.
To learn a new sport and get her body in shape for the role, Priyanka Chopra trained with Samir Jaura, who also prepared Farhan Akhtar for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
Priyanka Chopra also met Mary Kom and even made trips to her home in Imphal to get pointers about the sporting aspects as well as the boxer’s intriguing personal life.
To induce as much realism as possible, Christy Halbert, USA’s assistant coach at the London 2012 Olympics, was brought on board to choreograph the fights.
The movie includes several key bouts from the early days of Mary Kom’s boxing career. All of Priyanka Chopra’s opponents in the movie were real boxers, not stand in actors, and she even took a few real punches while shooting the Mary Kom movie and sustained real injuries.
While boxing remained the heart of the Mary Kom biopic, it also tackled issues related to women empowerment, motherhood and the trials and tribulations of a world champion balancing her family life with a successful boxing career.
Not entirely. But though some creative liberties were taken to add the zing to a commercial cinema, most of it had its roots firmly grounded in Mary Kom’s real life – the true star of the movie.
“Most events shown in the film are real, but with a little bit of masala,” Mary Kom clarified.
Mary Kom has also praised Priyanka Chopra for her dedication to get into her shoes.
“Priyanka saw how we lived. She met my family and had a close look at my early life. It was a lesson for her. My rise from the rice fields of Kangathei village to winning the World Championships has been captured really well,” Mary Kom said.
The Mary Kom movie premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, making it the first Hindi language movie to feature on the opening night of the prestigious event.
The biopic also received a National Film Award for the Best Popular Film and also won several other awards, including multiple Filmfares.
Priyanka Chopra, the lead of the movie, also later revealed that her husband Nick Jonas, a popular American singer of the Jonas Brothers fame, took it upon himself to watch the Mary Kom film.
“He doesn’t really watch my Bollywood movies but he watched Mary Kom by himself one day,” the actor stated.
Though the Mary Kom film takes a comprehensive look at the champion boxer’s early days, it’s still a story half-told.
The script and the screenplay of the Mary Kom movie finalised in 2011. It encapsulates Mary Kom’s inspiring rise from her village in Manipur against all odds. It climaxes with her at the gold medal-winning bout at the 2008 World Boxing Championships in Ningbo City, China - her first big triumph since becoming a mother for the first time in 2007.
Since then, the Indian boxer has won multiple titles inside the boxing ring, including two more World Championships, two Asian Games gold medals, a Commonwealth Games gold and most importantly a bronze at the London 2012 Olympics – regarded as the crowning moment of her career.
Multiple intriguing narratives, too, have played out in her life, including becoming a mother to more children, being nominated as a member of India’s Rajya Sabha and an intriguing rivalry with Nikhat Zareen in a bid to qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Already having qualified for the Tokyo Games, there might be still a lot more to come from Magnificent Mary to add to what is a delightful assortment of storytelling pegs fit for the big screen.
The boxer, in fact, already has her suggestion list ready for a potential Mary Kom 2. “I want more focus on the fights if they ever decide to make another biopic on me,” she said.
While we may have to wait for any possible sequel to the original, you can watch the Mary Kom movie on online streaming on Netflix or rent or buy the movie to watch it on YouTube.