When filmmaker Omung Kumar, then an art director of Chameli (2004), Black (2005) and Saawariya (2007) among others, wanted to start directing, his writer Saiwyn Quadras asked him if he knew the life story of boxing star and Olympic bronze medallist Mary Kom. Kumar didn’t, and Quadras insisted that he read about her. Hers was a compelling life story with a women-centric theme, he said.
Once Kumar learnt about the exploits of the five-time world champion, he flew to Imphal, Kom’s hometown in Manipur. At that point, he did not have a producer on board and “wasn’t sure if she’d be interested”. “But we clicked instantly. Within half an hour of meeting us in a restaurant, she gave her consent,” says Kumar, who made his directorial debut with Mary Kom in 2014.
This was one in a series of sports biopics that has caught on in Bollywood, a trend kickstarted by Chak De! India, the story of former hockey player and coach Ranjan Negi, in 2007. Both Mary Kom and Chak De! India earned over Rs100 crore worldwide. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), which depicts the life of celebrated Olympic sprinter Milkha Singh, raked in Rs120 crore at the Indian box office and over Rs250 crore globally, as did MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), a narrative on the meteoric rise of India’s wicketkeeper-batsman-captain, earning more than Rs200 crore. The recently-released Sachin: A Billion Dreams, a docu-drama on the country’s cricketing god, has also had a fair run at the box office, earning an impressive Rs28 crore in its first weekend.