A film on the life of Mary Kom is all set to hit theatres on 5 September. The five-time world boxing champion from Manipur will be played by Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World.
Given the already overwhelming responses in social networking sites, the
film is expected to be a major box office success. On the distaff side,
however, were reactions pouring in from several quarters questioning
the choice of the lead role by director Omung Kumar and producer Sanjay
Leela Bhansali. The obvious questions and reactions are why was no
actress from the North-east chosen for the role; Priyanka Chopra does
in no way look like Mary Kom!
Ironically, in Mary’s home state of Manipur cinemas cannot screen Hindi
films after militant outfits in September 2000 issued diktats to this
effect. The reason? Bollywood is undermining the state’s cultural
Another completely different and intriguing story of cinema lies in
Mary’s native place, the hill district of Churachandpur, in south
Manipur. She was born in Kangathei, where her parents still live, and
spent the best part of her childhood there. Two theatres — Churachandpur
Cinema Hall and Lighthouse — were closed in June 1997 following ethnic
clashes between Zomis and Kukis. When violence broke out on the fateful
day of 24 June, paramilitary forces were rushed to the area. Life stood
still — schools and markets were closed and work in hospitals was
affected. According to official records, the violence claimed 352 lives,
left 136 injured and over 4,670 houses were set on fire.
Paramilitary forces occupied both the cinemas. Until then, Churachandpur
— the second largest district — was peaceful, vibrant and the most
diverse, with over 20 ethnic groups living in peace and harmony. For
over a year, curfew was enforced. Gun-shots, gas cylinder explosions and
wailing sirens replaced the guitars and music the locals were fond of.
After a year of violence, the district limped back to normality, but the
two cinemas never came alive. While one of the halls has become a busy
market complex, the other is still under occupation of the BSF.
Today, Manipur’s hills and valley are more or less quiet and there is no
major upheaval over the banning of the screening of Hindi movies. Until
now, despite several attempts by filmmakers and the Mary Kom film crew,
they are yet to receive any response from the state government for
screening of films.
There is a mixed response. People have applauded the initiative to bring
Mary’s life to the big screen and are anxious to see how Priyanka
Chopra justifies the role. The first of its kind in Bollywood, it may
not be wrong to assume that the film is experimental.
Before the start of the actual shooting, Chopra went to Imphal, visited
Mary Kom’s house and met her family. Mary’s pictures, with Manipuri-Kom
traditional attire, and her twin boys were quite a sensation. The visit,
however, did not make an impression. Several stills of the film,
however, show that Chopra made serious attempts to “become” Mary. As
things stand, the film is unlikely to be screened in Manipur, but
hoardings have already come up on roadsides and the main markets. Girls
enjoy taking pictures with the posters and hoardings in the background.
And even if the film cannot be screened, it is bound to be popular on
Meanwhile, movie-lovers in Churachandpur fondly remember the Hollywood
and Bollywood movies they watched in the cinemas in Lamka town. Many
still recall the last movie they watched in Churachandpur Cinema Hall or
Lighthouse. Those evergreen Bollywood melodies still bring back
nostalgic memories for many of the district’s inhabitants.
The most important message in the Mary Kom film is the struggle of a
less-advantaged woman from the remote periphery of the North-east. The
stronger message is the grit and determination of Mary Kom who, despite
these disadvantages, made it big in the world of sports and became an
ambassador of her state and the country, touching the hearts of
thousands across India.
Perhaps the biggest question — not to forget the overriding message — is
whether the film based on the iconic Mary Kom’s journey will see the
reopening of cinemas in Churachandpur.
The writer is A Delhi-based freelance contributor