Our intention was not to follow a trend of doing a sports-centric biopic – Saiwyn Quadras
It is his first script that has been made into a film. And it has taken numerous first drafts and over three years to encompass and capture the life of a living sports legend on celluloid. Writer Saiwyn Quadras narrates the journey and experience of writing Mary Kom.
What did you do before films happened?
I studied at St.Francis D’Assisi School and Junior College till standard 12. Post that I did a Diploma in Event Management from NIEM and got my first job in ’99-2000 at Opus Planet which was Omung’s (director of Mary Kom) Event management company. After working for him for a year or so, I got the opportunity to become a writer for Zee Music and since then have been working as a freelance writer doing non-fiction shows on television and some odd digital content assignments.
What kind of books do you read? Tell us about your brush with literature or biographies… a few names of people whose life inspired you?
I read all kinds of books and the one I am currently enjoying is called ‘Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance’ by Mario Stassi. It is about death coming to take Charlie Chaplin’s soul and how he makes death laugh and buys one year at a time from it so that he can see his son Christopher grow up.
Is this your first brush with cinema? How did it come about and how did you train yourself in script writing?
Mary Kom is my first script that has been made into a film. I’ve written a few other scripts and have been trying to meet people for almost 6-7 years now. But as they say things happen here in its own time. My training in script-writing has been through a lot of film-watching, reading film material and books on screenplay writing and then trying to form my own way of being able to tell a story in the most interesting manner possible.
You said you began your career with Omung, who is now the director of your debut film. How did the relationship progress?
Omung was my first boss when I was a lanky 20-year-old boy. I remember my actor-friend Karan V Grover and I would stand up and wish him as he passed us by. We lost touch for almost 5 years after I quit Opus. But in 2008 when Karan was performing for Star Parivaar Awards we bumped into Omung again as he was designing the set. He said he was intending to get into film direction then and I wrote a couple of scripts for him but due to some reason or the other things weren’t working out. And then I suggested the idea of Mary Kom and the rest is history.
The scripts I wrote for Omung included a dance-based film and a female circus-based film. They are big budget hero-centric films and since at that time Omung was pitching as a debutant director we had difficulty in getting people to say yes for big budgets. So I quit for a while.
I worked at Balaji as a content creator in their event division for six months. During those six months Omung and I would meet every day as his office was walking distance. Then one day, in January 2011, he said let’s work on something female-oriented. We discussed a couple of fictional ideas which didn’t work. I had been following Mary Kom’s stories that would appear in newspapers’ shortest columns for a while. And one of those came up during a discussion and the premise was already etched in my mind – that of a rice farmer’s daughter from a small town becoming a 3-4 time world champion, making a comeback after having kids and winning two more medals. So I decided to research in-depth and then I told Omung about her.
Omung and Sanjay Bhansali have a working relationship since Omung was the art director for Bhansali’s Black and Saawariya as well. That’s how once we had readied the initial draft of the script Omung presented it to Sanjay Bhansali.
Considering the film is about a real living person, what went into the research of the subject? Explain the process of gathering the material.
Every form of research possible, Internet, books, sports footage, meeting Mary Kom and Onler (her husband) and her manager Jimmy and interacting with them via mail. We also met a few people who are involved in the National Boxing scene. I spoke to them and learned more about her as a sportsperson.
Biopics have become a fast selling item in Bollywood today. Were you intending to join the bandwagon?
Our intention was not to follow a trend of doing a biopic that’s sports-centric. I had started writing the film in 2011, a year before her win. That time the only thing that was announced was that Women’s Boxing will be included in Olympics but whether Mary Kom would be there or not wasn’t clear as she had to still participate in the trials for selection. Mary Kom became a household name after she won the Olympics in 2012.
Vanita, the production designer (Omung’s wife), Omung and I went to Manipur in May 2011 and met Mary. She was stunned that we wanted to make a film on her life and she put us on to her managers. As Olympics approached and subsequently she won, she became famous and people started taking interest in her. When she won the bronze we had three producers willing to make the film with us, a year before that we had no one on board. We thought we would have to make a small budget film with our own money and were trying to work on another subject which an actor would be interested in but luck was in our favour – our timing was good.
What were your interactions with Mary and her family like?
It was an absolute honour to meet Mary Kom and interact with her on a one-to-one basis. During our meetings, I would mostly observe the two of them, their chemistry and understanding with each other and try and pick a few minute details that I could use to pepper my screenplay with beautiful moments.
Did you meet other boxers too? Was it easy for you to pick up the nuances of boxing? Are you a sports person yourself?
Yes I did meet other boxers involved with the National Boxing scene pre and during the making of the film. I have played football, hockey, table-tennis and volleyball for my school so learning about any new sport is fairly easy.
What was the screenwriting process like? Was the director equally involved in writing? Please give examples of the process of coming to a scene.
The screenwriting process was a learning journey throughout. As the film was approaching pre-production, Omung got involved in getting the detailing of the film and scenes right. There are some scenes in the screenplay which didn’t have a visual description. He showed me references, how he sees those scenes and told me to add visual descriptions wherever possible.
Which is your favourite scene and why?
Actually all the scenes are my favourite because I have lived with all of those moments and emotions for almost three years now. But the scene that has most beautifully translated from paper to celluloid is the scene where Onler encourages Mary to make a comeback in the sport. I love it because of the way the emotions have come out perfectly without too much melodrama but at the same time hitting you like a punch.
I heard you acted in the film and even did a second unit direction for a day or more…
I played a cameo of a commentator and feature during the climax of the film. It was an awesome experience. I never ever thought that I would see myself on the big screen but now I am not averse to acting myself. The second unit direction also happened by chance. We were on the last day of shoot and Omung’s assistants were helping him can all the shots that were remaining. So the first AD Shuvankar Ghosh and Vishesh Sareen requested if I could shoot the newsreader portions and I agreed. I actually got the chance to feel the rush of saying Action and Cut, you can imagine how lucky I am. My first film inspired by the life of one of the legends of world sports Mary Kom, being produced by the biggest name in the business Sanjay Leela Bhansali, starring one of the biggest actors Priyanka Chopra, and I get a taste of directing and acting in it as well.
How much time and how many drafts later did you arrive at the final version? What’s the two liner of the film?
It took 15 first drafts before we unanimously agreed on finalising things and over three years since we first met Mary. The two liner: This is a story of a girl, a woman, a wife, a mother who fought all odds and emerged victorious in the boxing ring as well as the boxing ring of life.
– Priyanka Jain