Celebrity Mary Kom should now be Boxer Mary Kom again!

By Ranjan Yumnam *

A photo profile on Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom
A photo profile on Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom :: Picture Credit :: Donny Luwang / MC Mary Kom

These last three months of my life, I can't stay away from Mary Kom—not by choice, but by compulsion. Daily encounter with Mary Kom is a fait accompli like seeing the sun rising from the east at the break of the dawn. You don't think about Mary Kom, she happens to you. That is because after she won a bronze medal at the London Olympics, she is almost everywhere - she looms above you from the huge billboards erected at strategic places on your way to office; when you turn on the TV after work, she pleasantly surprises you by her appearance in the Indian soap opera, prime time talk shows, talent hunts, ribbon cutting events in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and countless other venues.

When she is not doing any of these, she is invited to dos of B-town celebrities, rubbing shoulders with the likes of living legends like actor Amitabh Bachhan and singer Lata Mangeshkar, to name just two. Last seen, Mary Kom along with Saina Nehwal and other Olympians visited the angry young man of Indian film to wish him on his birthday. They looked like equals, posing for photo-ops with the knowing smile that they are the towering figures in their own respective fields.

It seems the entire celebrity-dom of India can't have enough of Mary Kom enamoured as they are with the narrative of her astonishing and inspiring journey from a village in Manipur to the boxing ring of the Olympics in London through sheer hard work and determination in spite of odds stacked against her. And mind you, these odds were stupendous and to a person of average mental strength, they would have seemed too daunting to even try to overcome. But to Mary Kom, challenges are to be gamed - and she did it with such a spectacular finesse.

Mary Kom has also broken another glass ceiling into fragments. She is by far the only sport star from Manipur who has entered into the rarefied league of mainstream sports celebrities who have bagged endorsement deals of premium brands. She is not just a flash in the pan and what can be more mainstream than this: Sportspro, a sports magazine based in London, has ranked Mary Kom the 38th most marketable athlete in the world. The ranking is decided taking into account her marketing potential over the next three years and after considering factors like age, home market, charisma, crossover appeal and value for money. To get a perspective of what this means for the pugilist from Manipur, consider the fact that the legendary golfer Tiger Woods occupies the 47th place in the list of 50 most marketable athletes compiled by the Sportpro. Which means, Mary Kom is not the girl next door anymore - she is a big international brand now.

It is apt that Intelligent Life, a British bimonthly culture and lifestyle magazine from the venerable Economist stable described her thus: Mary Kom, boxer, mother, five-time world champion and habitual destroyer of stereotypes. (Departing from tradition of covering non-sports subjects, Intelligent Life featured Mary Kom as the cover story in its July/August issue).

Of course, Mary Kom deserves all the attention and adulation that have come her way after her sporting feat at the London Olympics. She should cherish every bit of it. At the moment she is busy receiving trophies, cash rewards, land, keys to apartments in numerous felicitation programmes held in her honour from a grateful nation that is won over by her talent, grit and her signature smile. In her free time, she walks the ramp in charity fundraising fashion shows and teams up with her colleague Olympians to support worthy causes.

While Mary is doing whatever she is doing, I am bombarded by information overload. What Mary Kom says or does, it's news now. And this constant stream of merry news needs processing for the sake of clarification and significance. Recent notifications appearing in my iPad while I was sleeping tell me Mary Kom has become the brand ambassador of Super Fight League, owned by Raj Kundra, Shilpa Shetty and Sanjay Dutt. According to the source, SFL will organise Pro Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) sporting event in India to be live-streamed across the globe weekly. Good news.

Second news ticker flashed: "Mary has launched international brand Tommy Hilfiger's children-wear store in Mumbai." Good. Another one came while I was boarding a plane and it informed me that Mahindra and Mahindra presented her a Bolero SUV as they think the vehicle and the boxer share the same philosophy: "Take on Anything".

Then the icing on the cake which is common knowledge now. A biopic on Mary Kom to be produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali is in the works. It instantly comes to my mind that a biopic on a living person is so rare and the most recent one I saw was on Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. This is deep.

Even for an armchair observer like me, the frenetic pace at which life is changing for Mary Kom seems maddening. To Mary Kom, it must be overwhelming and a technicolour dream come true. It is amazing that Mary Kom has so far handled the milestones taking place in her life in a graceful manner, full of poise and humility inspite of her epic achievement.

Mary Kom has earned a lot of goodwill and love from people all over the world, and at the moment her bank of goodwill is full. It takes great deal of wisdom to use it for the right purpose at the right time. Goodwill, though intangible, is perishable and has a shelf life. There is the fear that too much exposure in the media may fritter away that hard earned goodwill and respect.

Second, given the meteoric rise of Mary Kom into the celebrity firmament, full time image management for Mary Kom has become necessary. As we know, fame is transient. Novelty wears off. An actor is as good as his last film. And for a sportstar, her peak performance in the premier championship will remain the birthmark of her career forever, a legacy to leave behind. Mary Kom should set her sights on the next big leap and stay focused.

Third, there will be demands on her time for gracing numerous functions and association with interest groups of all hues. The foremost guiding principle in picking and choosing which causes to espouse is to ask this question: does it leverage my career, the kind of persona I want to build, the experience I had, the contribution I can make towards that cause.

Likewise, for commercial endorsements also, Mary Kom should choose and pick brands that complements her unique attributes and should not stray into domains that hardly relates to her. It may be recalled that when Amitabh Bacchan was in dire financial straits wrought on by his sinking company, ABCL, he appeared in so many poorly produced TV ads for downmarket products ranging from hair oil, soaps, sanitary products, and what not. It was seen as an act of desperation to grab quick money on the part of the ageing actor. Govinda, another Bollywood actor, went for pan masala, underwear, dubious herbal products that really don't help either the product or the endorser. Cutting short, we don't want to see Mary Kom doing uncharacteristic and ridiculous ads in the future just for financial gains that ultimately could dilute her starpower.

But at the end of the day, Mary Kom is Mary Kom. She is the biggest icon of Manipur now, in fact with more emblematic value than Kanglasha. She has highlighted and brought sharp spotlight on Manipur and repositioned the tiny State on the world map. Her success also reinforced the belief that sports is a great leveler, irrespective of one's background.

But I believe Mary Kom's journey is not yet over; it has just started. If London Olympics proved her mettle, then Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Rio De Janeiro Olympics in 2016 could well cement her position as the greatest woman boxer world has ever seen. To that end, Mary should stop being celebrity for a while and concentrate on what she does best and spend more time where she belongs: boxing ring.

Once these mega events are over - hopefully with flying colours for Mary Kom - and when she decides to contemplate retirement from professional boxing, there are many options from which she could cherrypick one or two. It may be too premature now but I can envision some options. For one, Mary Kom could become the fulltime ambassador of Manipur sports and tourism - two undertapped goldmines of Manipur.

She could get involved in speaking events and even launch a fresh career in motivational lecture circuit, which is a growing industry, what with TED events becoming magnets for the rich, famous and the achievers.

Most importantly, she can finally run her dream Boxing Academy in Manipur and expand it to other bases outside State like a branded franchise under her name.

Other than these, here and there, she can lend her voice to worthy local causes to draw attention of the deaf-mute Indian media and the generally cavalier New Delhi.

These are just my knee jerk speculations and I don't know for sure what she will ultimately do. But what I know she should never do is this: joining politics. I fear politics may undo whatever goodwill and respect boxing gave her and it will suck her into its dirty cesspool. She is far above it.

Time flies, and it's high time Mary Kom got back into the real business of boxing. She shouldn't let the famous Mumbai and Delhi types ruin her preparation and if dragged, she should politely tell them the party is over for now, ciao.

How I wish Mary Kom is humming her favourite Manipuri song right now, "Khangna khangna khanghoudeko houkhre matamse, kallak ida kallak ida bidyasakhi" and start taking the right decisions and steps closer to her quest for world domination in boxing her category.

Perhaps, she already is. To that prospect, let us chant thousands cheers for Mary Kom.
Kom on, Mary!

(Views expressed are personal and do not represent official position)

Ranjan Yumnam

* Ranjan Yumnam is a frequent contributor to, wrote this article for The Sangai Express. The writer can be contacted at ranjanyumnam(at)gmail(dot)com.
This article was posted on October 21, 2012.

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