The upcoming biopic of five-time world champion and Olympic medalist MC Mary Kom has already started facing flak over its casting choice. Many bloggers and writers have stated that it was wrong of the director to ask Priyanka Chopra to play the role as she looks nothing like Mary Kom.
There are also many blaming Omung Kumar and Sanjay Leela Bhansali of being racist as they did not even consider a Manipuri actor for the role. Possibly. But have these critics paused to think whether it was intentional and not for the reasons they claim?
Let us assume that Omung Kumar decided to audition and cast a Manipuri actor in the role. The argument is justified as Mary Kom herself is Manipuri. There is no dearth of acting talent there as proved by the great cultural scene in all of the seven sisters. The actor would be more comfortable understanding the struggles that Mary had had to face while rising through the ranks to be a champion. But would that have generated the interest of the youth who the movie is targetted at? It doesn`t say much for filmmaking in itself, but the director is hoping that the film reaches the maximum number of people. And that should be the priority of a movie based on an inspirational person. In the long run, it would be best if a few people do take up the sport and/or learn from the never-say-die spirit of Mary.
I agree the north east in Indian cinema is grossly underrepresented. But that is changing slowly and hopefully there would be many faces that would be soon seen on the big screen.
Let`s be honest – none of us would be writing about it if it was not a big budget Bhansali movie which starred a big Bollywood name like Priyanka Chopra.
Sports cinema in India has always been a challenge. Our country`s love for sports has been limited to cricket. Suffice to say a good film on Sachin Tendulkar will not require a big name to sell – provided it is marketed well. However, the theme of cricket did not work for the 1990 Aamir Khan starrer `Awwal Number` or the more recent Rani Mukerji starrer `Dil Bole Hadippa`.
Nevertheless, things did start looking upwards with Ashutosh Gowariker`s historical epic `Lagaan`. The movie changed the way sports-based movies were treated in India. `Chak De`, a movie based on women`s hockey got a lot of critical acclaim. Shah Rukh Khan played the part of a coach with sincerity and sophistication that proved his much questioned acting talent.
`Bhaag Milkha Bhaag`, one of the top 10 grossers of 2013, made sure of the theory that the genre has now started to generate interest in the audience. But are these success stories solely based on the filmmaker`s capability of telling the story? Or has the star power in the movie has made a difference to the people flocking to the movie?
Moreover, did Farhan Akhtar look like Milkha Singh? Couldn`t a Punjabi Sardar have played the character of the athlete better? But it did touch lives. More people have taken to hockey, athletics and other sports because of the mass effect of these blockbusters. Now, hopefully `Mary Kom` would help to do that too.
We have to understand that filmmaking is a business at the end of the day. Bhansali can make his picturesque dance dramas but it would need Aishwarya Rai and Deepika Padukone, even if there is better Gujarati talent available, to generate the 100 crore that the benchmark has now become. And he can certainly produce a great movie on the boxing champion with a lesser known but more similar looking Manipuri actress.
But would that be enough to get the people interested? Would the media be talking and discussing the movie with as much gusto? Priyanka is a good actress as she has time and again proven in movies like `Barfi`, `Fashion` and `Saat Khoon Maaf`.
In a recent interview with a leading daily the actress admitted, “Yes, physically, we do look different, but I’ve really been able to encapsulate her personality.”
We could not agree with her more. She does look very different, she does not share Kom`s Mongolian features, plus she is much taller and built heavier than the boxer. But, if she has indeed worked as hard, living and training for the role of a national treasure like Mary Kom – it would be only fair to let Priyanka and the director try and emulate Kom`s life on the silver screen. It would only help inspire more people, especially girls to step up and work hard to get to the helm of a challenging sport like boxing. It is after all a story of a champion. Whoever is made the face of the champion is irrelevant.