Behind monikers like Magnificent Mary and Golden Girl is a simple girl who smiles at the mention of actor Shah Rukh Khan and who, admittedly, loves dressing up. In a telephonic conversation from London, MC Mary Kom, who brought home the Olympic Bronze medal, tells HT Café about the importance of money, her dedication towards the sport and newfound fame.
India has fallen in love with you. How are you dealing with the fame?
I’ve really worked very hard and waited for this moment since the last 11 years. So the fame I am getting today is my entitlement. I have earned it and I deserve every bit of it. God has been kind to me. I’m so happy, I cannot express it. Everything around appears so blissful today. It’s a great privilege to say that I am a proud Indian today.
Will you also follow in the footsteps of other athletes and try to get endorsement deals?
Why shouldn’t I? My company (Delhi-based Infinity Optimal Solutions, which manages her) has already started getting calls. There is big money out there, and I deserve it. In 11 long years, I haven’t even earned R1 crore. If I don’t make money now, when will I? I’m not desperate for money, but I have valid reasons to want it.
What are the reasons?
I need money to run my boxing academy in Manipur, which provides free accommodation and training to all its students; they are brilliant talents but come from poor families.
Luckily, SAI (Sports Authority of India) and a few others have helped provide equipments and other basic amenities. So, when every second sportsman is making money from endorsements, won’t I be a fool to let this opportunity go by? With all due respect to other sports, boxing is the toughest of all. Look at cricket; it’s a team game, yet every cricketer earns millions! So why not me?
Could fame and big money divert your attention from the sport?
Boxing is in my blood and I breathe it. So there’s no question of losing focus. Money is important, but I am wise enough to understand that money is driven by visibility and great performances. I always have to be in form. Sachin Tendulkar is a glorious example of this. ‘I am a huge Hindi movie buff’.
We hear you’ve become very popular in London.
Oh yes, I am very popular here! People come over and ask for autographs and click photos with me.
Apart from the governments of Manipur and Assam, has there been any reward announced by the central government or any corporate establishment?
Not yet. But I hope it will happen soon. The money can be used for grooming upcoming boxing talent. India has a glorious future in
Does it bother you that Manipur often gets ignored from the overall Indian picture?
Why just Manipur? Most of India is ignorant about the North East. It’s the attitude that’s wrong. I was never taken seriously due to my looks. I had to suffer my share of derogatory ‘Chinki’ remarks, especially in big cities. I speak Hindi, so I always understand what they say. But now, I hope for a new beginning.
Will the fascination with Mary Kom remain forever?
I hope that this magic lasts forever, so that more Mary Koms emerge from the North East and contribute to Indian sport. For this, the central government should make a conscious effort to focus and include the North East in its agenda. The North East is not just about conflict, as it is made out to be. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.
How far will your Olympic feat go to break the stereotype about North-Eastern people, especially women?
I hope I can be the change in this regard. The people of the North East are well-qualified and well-brought-up Indians. They are employed in big cities as waiters and shop assistants. I respect the dignity of labour, but I detest the mindset of people who cannot change the way they think about us. Treat us with warmth, respect and love. Then, there won’t be the simmering anger and feelings of alienation in your own land.
Do you watch movies?
A lot! I’m a huge movie buff. I love Hindi films, especially the romantic and comedy films.
Any favourite star?
Shah Rukh Khan and Ranbir Kapoor are my romantic heroes. They give me reasons to smile and romanticise. I like watching Aamir Khan act. He’s brilliant. Salman Khan and Abhishek Bachchan are great entertainers. I also love Arshad Warsi — he is outstanding in comedy. God knows how many times I’ve seen Munna Bhai!
Are you aware that they have posted supporting tweets about you?
Yes, my husband told me. I feel happy. When I met SRK, he said ‘Mary Kom, I am a big fan!’ I met Salman recently and he was very encouraging. I also met Abhishek in London.
Everyone now feels you should enter politics and represent the North East?
No, please don’t even mention it. I’m a straight-forward person, and do not understand anything about politics.
I am a little free right now, so I’m visiting relatives, shopping, going sightseeing with my mother and husband… and I’m getting mobbed by fans. It’s a great high and I’m loving it.
During my last visit, I saw a few places, but this time, I’m taking my mother to the Big Ben, Thames River, Houses of Parliament, Madame Tussauds and Harrods. I am buying a lot of stuff for me and for my sons. They want scooters, sketch boards and gloves.