After Olympian biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag struck a chord (and won big at the box office and International Indian Film Academy Awards in Tampa), there has been an unprecedented rush to celebrate India's overlooked non-cricket athletes. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag contained a sobering tribute to India's forgotten sports stars who have died in poverty or been forced to sell trophies and medals.
Not long before, Indian boxer Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom pummeled her way to a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics, despite having to gain weight to even make the flyweight class. A biopic was almost guaranteed, especially after her inspiring autobiography Unbreakable released.
Mary Kom, which releases this weekend, traces the poverty-stricken fighter's life, from early street fights in her tribal community in Manipur state to five-time world champion, with detours for marriage and twin sons. It follows the indomitable Kom refusing to cave to opponents in and out of the ring, including officials and social pressure.
Priyanka Chopra, whom you may remember from her trips to Tampa for IIFA, stars in the titular role, backed up by mostly unrecognizable actors and a new director. Controversy has arisen about casting beauty queen Chopra as the tribal girl from India's far-flung northeast, residents of which often face discrimination. But trailers and promotions have painted a picture of highly recognizable Miss World 2000 transformed to embody Kom's physique and unbreakable spirit if not her looks.
Mary Kom premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival today and opens in theaters, including Tampa's Veterans 24, on Friday.
Caitlin E. O'Conner, Times staff writer