Mukkabaaz — like Mary Kom before it — delivers a knockout by pulling back its punches

Abhishek Srivastava

January 13, 2018 14:32:24 IST

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag planted the seed, Mary Kom gave impetus to the genre, Dangal and Sultan took it to a different level and now Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz shows the way ahead for sports movies in India. But when it comes specifically to films based on boxing, the efforts of filmmakers rests more on the classics of the West. One has lost count how many films the Rocky series alone must have spawned.

Vineet Kumar Singh in a still from Mukkabaaz. YouTube

Vineet Kumar Singh in a still from Mukkabaaz. YouTube

There is a sequence in Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz where the protagonist on the basis of his sporting skill manages a lowly paid job with the Railways. The trauma that he has to go through managing menial tasks at office, the daily grind of boxing practice in the evening and then attending classes only to understand the language of his mute wife, shown in fast cut, packs a powerful punch. Anurag leaves no holds barred in his flick showing the abject truth that concerns a middle class boxer from Uttar Pradesh. It is as close as it could get to the truth and the ‘based on true story’ plate at the beginning only reinforces the sincere effort. More than the love story, it is the trauma, trials and tribulations of a boxer’s life that leaves a lump in the throat.

Despite not being a popular or favored sport of the country, there have been instances when filmmakers have toyed with the idea of a boxer’s life on the celluloid, the redemption part being the core idea but none could leave an impression. Filmmakers have attempted films on boxing in the past only because it remains a much-loved genre in Hollywood, and Bollywood following Hollywood is as old as the Paleolithic era. Raging BullRockyMillion Dollar BabyHurricane and The Fighter remain the few best known films based on boxing in Hollywood. They all are popular films and a close inspection will reveal that their success remain closely knit to ethos of the American society. They received so much of love (not forgetting the moolah) that they even helped fetch actors like Robert De Niro, Christian Bale and Hillary Swank Oscar in their kitty.

The success of Rocky prompted director Raj N Sippy to make a quickie with Mithun Chakraborty as a boxer in a film suitably titled Boxer. While the core idea was conveniently translated to its Hindi version, both Raj N Sippy and Mithun forgot to add their soul to the film. Dharmendra’s Main Inteqam Loonga was another sham in the garb of a revenge drama. Aamir Khan’s Ghulam is certainly considered a hit and made pots of money at the box office but people flocked to cinema halls only to witness Aamir Khan woo a very young Rani Mukherji by crooning 'Khandala'.

With Apne, the focus was more on bringing the three Deols together under one roof. Any layman can figure out that the boxing track was incidental to the film. Saala Khadoos, helmed under the watchful eyes of master filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, was a decent effort but without punches. Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom remains the only film that could salvage the pride of such films. Let truth be told that Mary Kom on celluloid was neither Maggie Fitzgerald nor Jake La Motta nor Rubin Carter. Brothers was a much improved version and a sincere effort but the film surely had gaping holes, blame it on Karan Johar’s fascination with all things glossy.

Truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to Bollywood. When horror stories of former small town players who had once brought to laurels to the country now living in acute penury, abounds in newspapers these days, it certainly proves that Bollywood is a la la land. Whatever happened to the favourite quote of filmmakers that films are aa reflection of society?

Mukkabaaz has given a direction and paved the way ahead for films which delve into the realm of sports in the hinterland. Kashyap has once again shown the way that how things are to be done just as his Paanch, Black Friday and Dev D remain torchbearer in their respective genres.

Past films based on the concept of boxing met a poor reception only because their premise was positioned much on the concept of flattery and plagiarism and none believed in the concept of research. Anurag Kashyap too could have easily faltered had his lead actor Vineet Singh not made that call from his Patiala boxing training camp. That one call made him realize how off tangent he was in his approach, which later made him throw away all his DVDs of Hollywood boxing films that he intended to see before shooting the film.

The subsequent research was an eye opener. It made him aware of the fact that boxing practices and culture in India and world across are polls apart. In a nutshell, it was months of labour and hard work which brought Anurag closer to reality and the future applause. In hindsight, Mukkabaaz could only be considered as Anurag’s redemption which he could not fulfill with Ranbir Kapoor in Bombay Velvet.

Whatever be the fate of Mukkabaaz at the box office, it has enough to merit as a benchmark film and a manual on how such films should be attempted. It will now be imperative for future filmmakers to refer to this film if they plan to attempt a similar subject. The foremost appeal of such Hollywood films remains hidden in its raw and gritty appeal. Mukkabaaz is a perfect amalgamation that conveys the life of a boxer in its Indian milieu coupled with the gritty appeal of Hollywood flicks.

Updated Date: Jan 13, 2018 14:32 PM