Mary Kom was the last script My Father heard: Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra is a strong girl, who has always loved challenges, but playing Mary Kom was one of her toughest, both professionally and personally. Mary Kom was the last script she had narrated to her father. And she went on to start shooting it just four days after he died. Over an hour-long conversation over lunch ahead of her upcoming biopic Mary Kom, she talks to Bombay Times about the challenges of playing her, the experience of visiting Mary’s home in Manipur and why she considers her a friend today. Excerpts:
How hard was it for you to play Mary Kom?
This film is hard for me on so many levels. I went into shooting it just four days after my father passed away. Though I have not dealt with it even now, at that time I needed something that drove my entire focus. He used to really enjoy hearing my scripts and I would often narrate my scripts to him over dinner. This was the last script that he had heard. He had only said one thing, ‘Please isko na, theek se karna. Don’t do it like a Hindi film heroine would do sports. If you are doing it, do it right.’ Both my parents have been into sports unlike me, who was not athletic and always so lazy. So, while training whenever I went to the gym, he used to find it really funny as I would come back and complain. And he would say, ‘Aur bano heroine, kisne bola tha,’ and he would laugh. He would say, ‘Do it right, don’t just wear gloves and pose.’ Maybe that is why subconsciously, in a way, I wanted this to look as authentic as possible. Today, I can play the game to the extent if you put me with an amateur boxer in the ring, I will be able to handle it. My dad would say, ‘This film is a punishment for you. All the time you keep showing off that dekho mein kitna khaati hoon, but I am so skinny and so in shape, now you have to build your body and go to the gym.’
Physical training: As an actor, you give me something difficult and I am ready to jump onto the bandwagon. The first challenge was how to look like her, as I, being a North Indian, don’t look like her at all. We tried prosthetics, VFX and many things to make my features look different, but it started looking so gimmicky that we said, ‘Forget it.’ Before the film, everybody spoke about how I am so fit, but actually I know it is only genetics. I hate the gym. I thought it was very cool that I would be playing a boxer, but soon realised that she had arms and muscles. I never thought it would be so difficult. The toughest thing was to learn the sport. I was trained by Mary’s coach. Three months before shooting, post pack up, as I was shooting Gunday and Krrish3 also simultaneously, I would go to Sanjay Sir’s office (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) for 1-2 hours everyday, where a ring had been created for me to train in. Mary is a lefty and I am a righty, so it made it that much more difficult. In fact, now I almost feel I have become ambidextrous. Today, I can do about 50 push-ups and it will not hurt me. I had to gain weight and had to bulk up. So I was on heavy proteins and veggies. They also gave me some appetite-increasing things and I had to eat 6 times a day. I would have protein shakes that taste like cardboard water. I was shooting my other films from 9am to 9pm and then would come back and train. I would not sleep till 12 to 12.30 at night and then again get up in the morning. My trainer Prashant would sometimes come on the set and make me work out in between my shots. Even a boxer doesn’t have to train so much as they have built their body over time. I had to become like that in 3 months. I have a house in Goa near Baga where I stayed for 25 days before shooting along with the director Omung Kumar and the team. We converted the top floor into a gym and the ground floor became our den, where every evening we would watch a boxer film on a big screen along with dinner that we would order. We had created charts capturing Mary’s life that were put up on the wall. In fact, these chart papers travelled back with me to Mumbai, where they were put up in my house on my wall throughout shooting the film.
Real fights: All my opponents in the film are real boxers. For instance, one of them Pavitra, is a boxer from Hissar. She is playing a Sri Lankan boxer in the film and loses to Mary. As boxers, you cannot have an expression on your face as the opponent should not come to know. But we are doing a film and you need to give expression. So I would say to her, ‘every time I hit you, you can’t be a stone wall and not react.’ So finally I had to get punched in reality for her to feel anything. I would get punched full day. We have replicated some of Mary’s fights fully. One day, I started bleeding from the head. We wore the head gear of course, but I had to still get punched on the face and go back. I got an absyss on my forehead. I put ice and again next day we started shooting. During shooting it started bleeding again and suddenly there was blood trickling down from my forehead. They caught it in the camera and started shouting, ‘Cut! Cut! Priyanka is bleeding.’ My mum is a surgeon and had to be called to take out all the pus in my van and put bandage so that we could finish it as the girls had to go back to Hissar. We shot for 25 days everyday boxing for 12 hours. I am a tough girl and can take a punch, but the boxers are not used to more than 3 hours so for them they were shocked to see how much work we actors do. They were jokingly saying, ‘Aap actors ko toh abuse karte hain.’ I used to go back home so tired that my mom would make sure that I got into the bath tub in which she would put salt as I would not be able to move my body. I passed out one day in my bath tub. One of my thumbs is permanently damaged and I cannot fully bend it for life.
Looking like Mary: She changes her hairstyles more than I do. She loves to make her hair in so many different styles. She loves her make-up, lipstick and nail polish and is very fashionable. In fact, make-up is her favourite thing in the world. I spent three days with her and her family in Manipur, where they hosted me in their house. I went to her village, her school, her college, the church she got married, met her almost 100-year-old grandmother who is so mindb-lowing. She looks at you and says get up and throws you out. Superb it was. I went to her parents’ house, the fields where she grew up, and it gave me such a perspective of what the film should look like. We have replicated so many things in the film. Like her house is exactly the same. Omung being a production designer himself, recreated it just like the original. We replicated her look when she was in school. She used to love those tick-tack clips which I hated. She was in love with them, so in the whole film I have worn them. We replicated her exact wedding gown, her make-up and the look of her wedding. Over time, we became friends and I would talk to her before many shots and ask her what she was thinking at that time and we have captured many things in her zubaan in the film. She is just 33, so was easy for me to just pick and ask her about the incident that I was shooting, as it is her current life.
What is Mary like in real life?
She is so feisty. When you think of a boxer in your head, you think of some strong, bulky person. When I first saw Mary, I was shocked. She walked in her French chiffon, hair straight with pangs, gold earrings and glitter on her nails and I was so confused. I had been training looking at her in the rings. And there was Mary, who giggles, sings, dances and was so excited with the idea that a film was being made on her and the fact that I was playing her. She loved Barfi. In this film, I have taken over Mary’s personality fully. She is a full ladhakoo. I went to her gym in Manipur and all these kids were very excited that I have come and it became overcrowded. She took off on all of them. They don’t have these fancy, heavy bags. They have their own innovative ways, for instance they had these tyres stacked up hung from the ceiling on which you punch. She doesn’t care a shit about what people think, she has an opinion and doesn’t mind voicing it. She is an open personality, but at the same time she is a girl who loves cooking, loves being a mother. In fact, she is a really good cook. She loves dressing up and going shopping. She took me to this only-female local market. You can’t mess with Mary as she fully bargains. She is really sorted and her kids are running around her all the time. We have captured all that we saw in the film.
In what ways did you relate with Mary personally?
We are both from small towns and have made our careers in male dominated fields. When she started boxing, women couldn’t play for the country. It was only in 2000, when she started playing for her country that women were allowed to take part in boxing. Just like she represented India and was a world champion, I too was Miss World. As personalities, we are really similar though I am a little more shy than her. I fight with my loved ones and will throw things at them, but otherwise I am shy. But she is shy only in front of her husband which is really cute after having three children. He has a straight- faced humour and is very much the man of the house and yet he loves to see her fly and shine. People started making jokes about him when she started becoming famous but he said to her, ‘it is your time.’ He is so content as a man himself and so relevant for today’s men, who need to learn from him that it doesn’t make you any less a man. He takes care of the kids and will do everything when she is training. Now, she is making a bigger house and an academy as she can afford it. It’s amazing to see what she is doing for her people.