Sunday, September 07, 2014

Mary Kom

Here's a weird thing I've noticed about going to Bollywood movies: For as much as they are often very star-driven - I've mentioned the crazy credit that Rajnikanth gets at the start of his movies before, and the posters shown on iMovieCafe are often nothing but the stars with nothing about the movie - the previews almost never mention them by name. I saw the trailer for Mary Kom three or four times, for instance, and I didn't realize it was a Priyanka Chopra movie until I was looking it up on IMDB a week or so ago. Which struck me as weird, as she's a pretty big star and this is very much a star vehicle.

Now, to a certain extent this is just not being immersed in someone else's pop culture; if I were Hindi, I'd see Ms. Chopra on posters, in advertisements, on whatever the Indian equivalent of Entertainment Tonight or Letterman is, and I'd just know her, even if she is transforming herself a bit for this part. Then again, that's not always the case; I don't always recognize Tom Hardy, for instance, and he's a guy I really like. I'd think that Chopra is part of what you'd want to push about the movie, more aggressively than the film's advertising does.

Producers get billed in the previews though, though, which is kind of curious - are movie producers the sort of recognizable brands that bear promotion in India? Or is it more an ego thing? I find it rather odd that Indian studios seem to think that fixing the name of the producers in the audience's minds at the end of a preview is more effective than doing so with the stars.

The other side of this is the opening credits for the films, where in addition to the studio and production company logos there is a huge string of sponsors and partners. This isn't unique to Bollywood, though they usually come during the end credits in the Chinese and Japanese films which have a bunch of them. This one was unusually long, the sort of length where one is tempted to start yelling for them to start the actual movie already, or maybe take down a list to see who got the most product-placement bang for their buck. It does make you appreciate Hollywood, where the big multimedia collossi don't need to sell such prominent sponsorship (but let's not give them any ideas).

Mary Kom

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 September 2014 in Regal Fenway #5 (first-run, DCP)

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.

Full review at EFC

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