Mumbai: The makers of the film Mary Kom today conceded that they might have made a mistake in casting Priyanka Chopra as the boxer Mary Kom when the right thing would have been to let Mary Kom play Mary Kom.
“Mary Kom as Mary Kom ticks all the boxes”, said the film’s director Omung Kumar. “She is not only a Manipuri, but also looks Manipuri.” Priyanka Chopra, on the other hand, has a long way to go before she can even start to resemble a Manipuri, Omung said candidly.
Getting the Manipuri part is vital to this movie because it cannot be counted to get the Manipur part right because this is a Sanjay Leela Bansali production. His idea of slums in films is more or less: A suburb in Austria.
Mary Kom, the commercial film on the eponymous Indian woman boxer from the neglected North-East who created history by winning a bronze medal in London Olympics, has faced flak, especially on social media platforms, for the fact its heroine is in reality a Punjabi. There has also been criticism over the fact Priyanka’s makeup gives her a slit-eyed look, which is being seen as perpetuating the racial stereotype of those from the North-East of India.
Why draw attention to something that is used pejoratively to put down a race is the question that is being resonantly asked on twitter and other forum where they, between fervently crying for the victims in Gaza and Syria, also talk, equally fervently, of the oomph factor of, say, Sunny Leone.
“Looking back, I would say that it was a wrong decision on our part to pick Priyanka as the heroine,” Omung said, and added ‘we were naïve, or even stupid, to believe that we could get away by making a professional actress act out a character in a film. Now it is clear to us that to play a Manipuri boxer the politically correct, not to say the ethically right, thing would have been to cast a Manipuri boxer”.
Looking the part (of character) is an important aspect in films that are based out of real-life personalities. For instance, Ben Kingsley prepared himself to play Gandhi by running a fabric store in Surat and then emigrating to Kenya so that he could embrace true Gujarathiness.
In Bollywood, Aamir Khan, who is a stickler for realism, insisted that he shoot himself with real bullets in the portion he played the role of Chandrasekar Azad in Rang de Basanti. For reasons that cannot be called logical, the director put his foot down on Aaamir’s proposal.
Back in Tamil Nadu, Kamal Haasan portrayed the character of George Bush to a nicety in the film Dasavatharam by taking lessons from (Bush’s deputy) Dan Quayle. (The film, in portions, certainly looked directed by Quayle).
Getting back to Mary Kom and Priyanka, Omung said “it was an honest mistake. Our intentions were good only. We understood that Manipur and Mary Kom’s achievements have not got the recognition they deserved. And we felt that the best way to draw India’s attention to them is by letting Priyanka and us make money through the film”.
“I mean when Priyanka, who herself has brought laurels to the country — she, for the record, has the maximum number of lip jobs in the world — plays a character, people are bound to take notice. Let us face it, only after Farhan Akhtar turned up on screen as Milkha Singh did much of the younger generation know about the legendary runner’s exploits, especially on the sidelines of Melbourne Olympics,” Omung said with a wink.
Even though Mary Kom is being criticised for not being true to Manipur, Priyanka is already walking away with plaudits for getting the boxer part right. Which is kind of surprising because Priyanka’s previous experience stops with showing up in shorts — as she did in Dostana — that are several sizes smaller than a standard boxer.
Apparently, Priyanka underwent special training thanks to which she, on the basis of the trailer, looks exactly like a top-flight international boxer when played by a former Miss World.
On the face of it, looks like Priyanka is set for an award. Our only worry is that Indian sports administration being what it is, it doesn’t end up bestowing the Arjuna award on her.
(Disclaimer: When the film releases, at least one review will carry the heading: Jab we met)