Keeping it real

bollywood Biopic

Keeping it real

Known for her glamorous roles and her sensuous onscreen presence, actress Priyanka Chopra talks to Rajiv Vijayakar about fitting into the shoes of boxing stalwart Mary Kom for her upcoming biopic...

She’s now lived another woman’s life — that of five-time world boxing champion and Olympian M C Mary Kom. And this lifetime opportunity gave her so much that Priyanka Chopra is in a state of mini euphoria. The icing on this beautiful cake is obviously the huge metaphorical pat given by Mary herself to the actress, with the heartfelt compliment, “No one could have played my role better than Priyanka!”
For an actress who has largely been known for glamorous or light roles (Andaaz, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Waqt – The Race Against Time, Don, Dostana, Don 2), this is yet another wonderful opportunity to prove her histrionic worth, which she also did spectacularly in films like Aitraaz, Kaminey, Fashion, Agneepath, and above all Barfi!.

Becoming Mary
But there was always that crucial difference as her role in Mary Kom was not about any fictional character. “The challenge here was to bring alive a real person who is still professionally active, and young too,” she says seriously when we meet up at Mehboob Studios. Priyanka is back to her slim, feminine self and stated, “I had to depict her persona and life authentically. Fortunately, I know Omung for years through his shows etcetera, so there was a great comfort zone. And Sanjay (Leela Bhansali)-sir and he gave me great creative freedom within that. They got me involved in everything, like the smallest details of the script.

Priyanka stresses that as soon as she heard the story, she wanted to do the film. “Apart from Mary’s accomplishments, which I was unfortunately completely unaware about, there has been absolutely no biopic made so far on any female athlete in India, though we have had our P T Usha and Sania Mirza. And now is a great time for such cinema.”

The film was almost like a mission for the actress, who also interacts on a regular basis with so many parents in her capacity as an ambassador for UNICEF. “There is only so much money coming into a family, they tell me. Should they spend it on their daughters’ education? Or use it for their training in sports? Shouldn’t it be the school that includes sports as a part of their curriculum to foster a competitive spirit that goes beyond the galli (lane) to a national level?” she asks fierily.

“Today, Mary tells me that her name has become known after I signed the film to portray her. That itself is ironic,” she goes on. But the true gratifying aspect was her extensive interaction with Mary. “Mary encouraged me when I began to have doubts about successfully communicating the Manipuri ethos, the culture, and her spirit,” says the actress happily. “She shared her deepest secrets with me. She is a lovely girl who also simply loves red lipstick and nail polish.”

The actress has a ready and honest answer to the eternal question of why she was chosen for the role of a short girl from northeastern India without the slightest physical resemblance. “A film that does justice to Mary cannot be made economically, so a big budget film needed a top star,” she reasons rationally. “Which of us five actresses at the top looks like her anyway? And it is we who create stereotypes like south Indian, northeastern and so on. I had to be like Mary in spirit. Her height never mattered in her profession anyway, though we did make sure that we maintained the same difference between my height and that of Darshan Kumaar, who plays her husband Onler Kom, as between Mary and him. So Darshan was chosen according to that.”

Physical transformation
As for the gruelling physical regimen, Priyanka makes light of all the training she had to do to gain muscle and master boxing. “It was my duty to do all that,” she reasons again. “Every character needs a different kind of homework,” she says. “For my song in Goliyon Ki Rasleela — RamLeela, it was 10 days of rehearsals. For Barfi! it was spending time with autistic people to note the way they walk, behave, talk and think.”

Adds the actress, “There were only two points that were challenging: one, I had to develop the body needed within three months, while athletes take years. And two, because I was also shooting …RamLeela and Gunday and promoting Krrish 3 in between the two schedules, I had to lose all the muscle and gain it again to maintain continuity for all films.” And Priyanka brushes away the fact that these things did take a small toll on her health. “I think that there is no replacement for hard work, which is something my father has always ingrained in me from school,” says the focussed actress who is now in her 13th year in films. “Complacency can finish you.”

The same dedication is seen in the actress while singing the haunting lullaby, “Chauro” for the film. “This was something I always wanted to do,” she states enthusiastically. “I had never sung in a Hindi film before. But here the challenge was to feel that motherly affection for a child within me, as that was something that I have never personally experienced. So finally I decided that I should approach the song as an actor, not as singer, and imagine that my child was on my lap. And I also wondered: what does a working woman feel about her child? For example, does she also think that her career can never be the same again?”

So what does she think of marriage and family? “Obviously, I too want to get married and start a family,” Priyanka chirps. “In fact, I have always wanted to get married since the age of four,” she grins. “In every fancy-dress competition, I would play a bride, complete with a bindi and a sari. But I have not yet found anyone. Maybe my standards are high.”

Finally, about turning producer with the forthcoming Madhur Bhandarkar film Madamji, Priyanka is matter-of-fact yet again. “Madhur gave me a one-line narration and I heard a bit of the script. The film is at an initial stage now. The scripting is not final, after which all the heads of the different departments will be signed, but I have loved the concept. I wanted to be a producer and this was a good way to start out.”

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