Mary Kom **1/4
Dir: Omung Kumar
Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Darshan Kumaar, Sunil Thapa
Almost every sports and boxing movie cliché you can think of is present in Mary Kom, a competently made but never really exciting film. Based on the life of the Indian 5-time amateur world boxing champion, it runs us through the standard sports movie requirements – an underprivileged background; a not-necessarily supportive home environment; a cute little romance; a gruff, irascible but ultimately well-meaning coach; a training montage (or two); a temporary setback; a climactic clash against an old rival; an ultimate triumph. Other sports movies have risen above these clichés but Mary Kom, unfortunately, doesn’t.
There are some interesting bits in the directorial debut of Omung Kumar, a Sanjay Leela Bhansali protégé (Bhansali also serves as one of the movie’s producers). However, the film never gets us under the skin of Mary (Priyanka Chopra) and we never really get to know her as a person, except for the fact that she really, really loves boxing. The relationship between Mary and her husband and how they deal with having twins has its moments too but the movie is too busy in getting us to the high points of Mary’s career to really flesh out these domestic scenes. The passing nod to the separatist movement in Manipur, the Indian north-eastern state where Mary hails from, actually serves no dramatic function either and could have provided some depth to the tale if it had been developed further. Otherwise, its perfunctory allusion is actually a bit insulting. The final bout is also much too shamelessly manipulative as it is unrealistically intertwined with an event in Mary’s domestic life.
Priyanka Chopra isn’t too bad in the title role though she looks nothing like the actual Mary or even Manipuri, for that matter. Worse, she looks much too glamorous in too many of the scenes to be a believable Mary. However, she’s pretty much always a decent actress and here she’s also good with the physical aspects of the role and particularly impressive in the training sequences. Darshaan Kumar is also able to make a minor impact as Onler, Mary’s husband. This is not a terrible movie by any standards but it is much too predictable and conventional and not as inspirational as it should have been.
Cut to chase: Competently made but fails to rise to the challenge of fleshing out its heroine.
Dir: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Darshan Jariwala, Bill Paxton
Here’s another India-based true-life sports tale except filtered through the Disney lens. It gives us the tale of a formerly successful and self-absorbed sports agent, J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm from television’s Mad Men), trying to get his struggling agency off the ground. Just when bankruptcy seems imminent, J.B. gets the idea of travelling to India to unearth some baseball pitchers through a television talent show – something like India’s Got Pitching Talent – which finds him travelling across the dust and grime and chaos of the small towns and big cities of India in the company of his local assistants (Pitobash, Darshan Jariwala) and an almost constantly somnolent retired baseball scout (Alan Arkin). The winners of the television reality contest gets a 100,000 dollars and a chance to win a contract with a Major League baseball team in the U.S. This is basically Slumdog-Millionaire-meets-Jerry-Maguire and you can almost bet that that’s how the movie was sold to the Disney big-wigs. They even cast one of the Slumdog boys in the movie.
So will our two main young Indian contestants, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Mittal), be up to the challenge? Will J.B. rediscover his soul and also become conscious of the charms of his slightly unconventional neighbour, Brenda (Lake Bell)? Will the faux family setup of J.B., Brenda, Rinku and Dinesh turn into a true family unit? This is a Disney movie – what do you think?
Still, despite its formulaic approach, the movie does have its moments. The performances are all fine, the Indian characters largely avoid caricature, the scenes set in India do have a certain charm, and the fish-out-of-water scenes for the Indian boys in the States are amusing. The final scenes are hard to swallow for anybody familiar with the current Indian sporting landscape and you really don’t want to know what happened to Rinku and Dinesh subsequently (look it up if you want) but if you take Million Dollar Arm as basically a Disney fairy tale then this is not too bad a movie for a slow afternoon.
Cut to chase: Capably done but done by the numbers.