Mary Kom tells a story that is still too often ignored: that of a female athlete. Based on the life of Olympic boxer Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte, the film chronicles Kom’s entrance into boxing, struggles with gender, class, and racial politics, her successes, her marriage and children, and her return to the sport.
The film is thrilling, showcasing Kom’s strength and tenacity. Biopics often suffer from being, essentially, period pieces. But Kom is still alive, still training, still fighting. The movie ends shortly before her real-life qualification for the 2012 London Olympics. Her struggles are not just those of someone in the past; these are recent struggles women still face. Perhaps her life and this movie will inspire more women and girls to take up sports, and more people to work for equality.
Likewise, this movie is part of a trend of showing the true difficulties and sacrifices of parenthood. When proposing, Kom’s husband-to-be says he will never force her to give up boxing. But she must take a break when she is pregnant and then recovering from birth. She must work even harder to get back to her previous form. At the same time, the narrative demonstrates that a woman’s life doesn’t end with giving birth. Kom is able to return to boxing. She loves her children, but she is more than just Mom or Wife; she is Mom and Wife and Daughter and Boxer and Champion.
The movie suffers a bit from the casting of Priyanka Chopra. That is to say, Chopra’s physicality is amazing; her body is strong and convincing, her acting is terrific. But as someone who looks typically “Indian,” the racial politics didn’t quite land. (Kom is from a Tibetan-Burman speaking tribe in Manipur.) That said, those issues are at least mentioned in the movie, and Chopra’s presence obviously helps to sell the movie.
Considering the cultural moment right now, of the depiction of women’s strength, of discussing their depiction in films and shows like Wonder Woman, Iron First, and Glow, it is exciting to see a real life story and remember the real women being awesome and breaking barriers.