Also read:Mary Kom will settle for nothing less than gold at Asiad
“Even when I am not at my peak, I am confident of winning. I got the better of my opponent during the trials for the Commonwealth Games. It took 15 minutes for the judges to decide on the winner and the verdict went against me. I was sure I had won that time too, but I decided to stay quiet and reply in my own way at the Asian Games’ trials. So, I trained hard and left no room for discussion. This time around, I won with a margin to spare,” says the feisty boxer triumphantly.
Even before Priyanka Chopra was cast for the lead role in a biographical movie about MC Mary Kom, the Olympic medallist boxer was an established name in India’s sporting circles.
Mary Kom’s rise from a remote village in Manipur to a hat-trick of world titles (in 2002, 2005 and 2006) makes for an incredible tale. She continued to box after her marriage to K Onler Kom, whom she met when he was studying to be a lawyer in Delhi, and won an Olympic medal after motherhood.
Her amazing journey motivated filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali to produce a movie about her. It’s perhaps for the first time in the world that a biopic on a major sportsperson’s life has been made while the athlete is still active in the sporting arena. The biopic has further cemented Mary Kom’s celebrity status and made the boxer from Manipur a household name across the country.
At the ongoing Asian Games being held at Incheon, Korea, Mary Kom returns to international competition after her Olympics triumph in August 2012 and after giving birth to her third child in June last year.
The popular vote
There used to be a time when India’s women boxers, including those who had won international medals, were not given their due. Even an air ticket to fly home from Delhi after winning a gold medal in the World Championships was considered a big incentive for the girls.
“The first national camp for women boxers was held at Bangalore in 2001 and the girls travelled by train on sleeper class tickets,” recalls Anup Kumar, the national women’s chief coach in boxing. “I still remember that before going for the World Championships in 2002 and 2005, I announced that I would sponsor the air tickets from New Delhi to the hometown of the girl who won gold. Mary won the gold on both the occasions and got to fly from Delhi to Imphal.”
Also read: I had to build those muscles in three months, what Mary Kom did in 15 years- Priyanka Chopra
Thanks to his father’s access to the boxing establishment and archives, Saharan could help director Omung Kumar get valuable material and sporting footage for the film. “I collected old recordings of Mary Kom’s bouts and old photographs from my father.
The way Priyanka Chopra gets emotional when the national anthem was played during the World Championships, in the last scene of the movie, is exactly how it was in real life, when Mary became world champion and stood at the top of the podium.
“We got the recording of that moment from my dad. He even helped us with anecdotes about Mary, such as how she keeps the Bible under her pillow when she goes to sleep. Kumar used some of them in the movie,” Saharan reveals.
Training to be mary
To get under the skin of her character, Priyanka Chopra trained for almost six months with professional coaches and national level pugilists who knew Mary Kom well. In the beginning, for two months, Priyanka took boxing lessons from national women’s coach Hemlata Bagdwal.
“After the first stint of training, Omung wanted Priyanka to train alongside a player, to understand a boxer’s psychology. So she trained for about four months with national-level boxer Jharna Sanghvi who has been part of many national camps,” says Saharan. “Priyanka boxed like a well-trained athlete in the movie and nobody can make out whether she is a professional boxer or an actor,” says Mary Kom. “She even visited Manipur and spent two days with me.”
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
The air crash
If you remember, one of the sequences in the film shows Mary Kom as a little girl visiting an air crash site and picking up a boxing glove. An Indian Airlines plane did crash on August 16, 1991, at the Thangjing Ching mountain range near Mary Kom ’s village. There were no survivors. But in real life, the crash had nothing to do with her first brush with boxing.
In the movie, Priyanka Chopra is shown engaging in fights for money. In real life, Mary Kom did get into fights during school. At times they were sparked off by remarks passed by some unruly boys. At others, she fought while standing up for her friends. “I had street fights with boys but I never fought for money,” she says.
The movie shows that love blossomed between Mary Kom and Onler Kom after a fight where she was boxing for money in Manipur. She loses the bout and he offers to drop her back after the fight. But in real life, they met in Delhi after a training session in 2000. After a five-year-long courtship, they got married.
A close shave
In the movie, Priyanka, playing Mary Kom, shaves her head during a training camp. In real life, too, Mary Kom did the same. “While travelling to Bangalore for a camp in May 2001, Mary Kom’s purse and passport were stolen in the train. On the first day, she landed with a shaved head. When asked by the coach why she did so, she replied that somebody had stolen her things. To make sure God punished the culprit, she had shaved her head to symbolise the death of that thief in anticipation. “I realised that Mary was different from other girls in the camp,” recalls chief coach Anup Kumar.
The hole was detected during the Asian Championships in China in 2011. Mary Kom wanted to skip the championship, but played on at her husband’s insistence, and had a very difficult time in China worrying about her child’s health. She went on to win gold and caught the flight home the same night. She reached just in time for the surgery.
Rebika Chiru, a national-level boxer, first informed Mary Kom about women’s boxing being introduced at the Sports Authority of India’s Imphal centre. Just like in the movie, Mary Kom did go to the centre. “I went looking for Ibomcha sir [L Ibomcha Singh] while a training session was on. He told me to wait. He was ready to take me under his wing, but his contention was that I won’t be able to cope,” she recalls.
From HT Brunch, September 21
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