Irrespective of the box office fate of her last film, Gunday, the accolades simply keep pouring in for Priyanka Chopra. And despite the fact that her movie costars Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor dominated most of the film, there’s no denying Priyanka’s contribution to it. Now everyone’s waiting for PeeCee’s next biggie, Mary Kom her first biopic based on five-time world boxing champion and living legend, Mary Kom. Though it has been a challenging task, PC is elated to have got the opportunity to bring life to Mary Kom’s character on the 70 mm, as she feels she’s the only actress who could have pulled off the role. As we are seated in the cool confines of Studio 4 at Mehboob studios (Bandra), Priyanka talks about Mary Kom, challenging roles, Madhuir Bhandarkar’s Madamji and more.
This is your first biopic. As an actor, what was the most challenging task doing a biopic and how did you prepare for it?
I think the most challenging part is that as an actor you are entrusted with the responsibility to portray and project the personality of the person on whom it is based correctly. It’s difficult considering it’s not fictionalized. As far as Mary Kom is concerned, it was challenging because Mary Kom still plays boxing. Anyone can meet her and know about her personal life. So my responsibilities increased manifold. It’s based in today’s time. The purpose to do Mary Kom was to show the spirit of a lady who fought against all odds to become a five-time world boxing champion.
Surprisingly, you didn’t know anything about Mary Kom before you started work on the film?
Yes, it’s shameful that I didn’t know that before I started work on the film. When Omung offered me the script of Mary Kom, I was quite excited to hear the script, also because the film was being produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali who’s a very dear friend. I’ve known Omung for a long time. So I was quite comfortable. Omung and Sanjay gave me a lot of creative freedom. It gave me lot of respect as a creative person. When I heard the script, I told myself I have to do this film because it’s the story of an underdog who is a five-time world boxing champion. There hasn’t been any movie based on Indian girl athlete and the audience is interested to watch a good concept driven film. We thought the motivating real life story of Mary needed to be told.
Do you think girl athletes in our country aren’t given enough importance?
I’m associated with UNICEF and keep visiting villages of Maharashtra and interact with the girl child and their parents. During my interaction I came to know that girls are indeed interested in sports but because of poverty they couldn’t fulfill their ambition to pursue it. I think sport should be made as a mandatory subject in schools.
There were debates that an actor from North India, especially Manipur should have been cast to play Mary Kom while Sanjay Leela Bhansali had said that commercial viability of a successful Bollywood star would help the film to score better. What would you say to that?
Yes, there was a big debate that happened related to casting and people said that a new face from North India should be launched to play Mary Kom but the budget at which the film was being made was not viable and there was no scope for any new actor to be launched. If Mary’s story wouldn’t have been told in a big commercial way then the purpose wouldn’t have been solved. Unfortunately, people still ask Mary, if the place Manipur where she belongs to, is part of India. She told me something that really touched me. She said, ‘People know me after I represented India in Olympic but Indians started knowing me after you played Mary Kom.’ If you notice top five Bollywood actresses, nobody comes close to Mary and her physical characteristics. A lot has been said about South Indian stars who are not accepted in Bollywood. Why? Are they not Indians? I don’t think just because my face doesn’t look like Mary, I have not embodied her. Mary encouraged and appreciated me for my performance. I can proudly say that though I don’t look like Mary, I’ve portrayed the spirit of her to the best I can. I think no other actor could have played the part perfectly.
It must have been physically strenuous considering you had to learn boxing and had to undergo a strict exercise regime for three months…
Yes, it was physically strenuous to shoot the film. But I did my homework and preparations well like I did for characters like Jhilmil in Barfi! or Saat Khoon Maaf. I learnt boxing for about three months and did lot of exercise to look like a boxer. So that took a toll on my health.
What’s your success mantra?
There’s no replacement for hard work. My success mantra has always been hard work. Though it may sound filmi but the fact is that I get into the skin of the character I play on screen.
You had to sport a bald look in the film…
There was only one scene for which I needed to look bald which wasn’t an issue. But yes if I had to sport a bald look for the entire film, then I would have to think. There was no need to shave my head off.
Did you feel bad for not winning any award for Barfi!?
Of course, I felt bad for not winning award for Barfi! But my victory was the love and recognition from the audience and my fans. Awards do encourage an artist to work hard and if you don’t win it hurts you too. I never do films for awards. I’ll be the first person to clap for a deserving candidate at an award ceremony. I’m an artist and I appreciate good talent. Jhilmil was a very challenging role and to convince myself to play an autistic girl was the challenge which paid off big time.
Rani Mukerji raised objection to the word ‘male-centric’. What’s your take on it?
I recently said this in an interview that when you see a male protagonist film, do you say kya male-centric film hai! Why gender biased? Before hiring someone, you look at the person’s qualifications and not the gender.
After Mary Kom, you will start work on Madhur Bhandarkar’s Madamji which is your first production. Recently, there were reports that you asked Madhur to tone down the intimate scenes in the movie?
I don’t know where this came from. I haven’t heard the script yet though I heard the narration which didn’t include any intimate scene. Madhur hasn’t given me the script yet considering. Filmmaking is a team process. We sit together, discuss and alter scripts. The casting and Head Of Departments are still not finalized yet for Madamji. The writing is still going on.