Concordia alumnae shine light on female Indian boxing champions in new documentary
MC Mary Kom, who was born in Manipur, India, financed her early boxing career by squirreling away whatever money she could until she had enough to buy her first pair of cheap boxing gloves. Despite winning match after match in the ring and slowly climbing in the rankings, Kom kept her involvement in the sport a secret from her family.
After she won the boxing state championship, her story was featured in a newspaper–her parents found out she was a boxer.
Kom’s story is one of many told in With this Ring. The documentary, directed by Concordia alumnae Anna Sarkissian and Ameesha Joshi, examines the reality of female boxers in India. Despite earning numerous titles and medals, the athletes reside in a country where old traditions and societal pressures discourage women from participating in sports such as boxing.
The documentary follows several female boxers over a period of six years as they train to become the next world champion, competing on the global stage. In addition to showing the grueling training schedule, the film also highlights the challenges these women face outside the ring, such as the huge pressure for young Indian women to marry.
For many athletes in the film, boxing is more than just a sport. It’s a source of income, or an escape from poverty, or a means to get a job. Yet, for all the successes of India’s female boxing team, the top-ranked in the world, recognition is hard to come by.
“Our ultimate goal was to share the boxers’ stories with Indian society and hopefully the rest of the world too, so that they can be recognized for everything they’ve sacrificed and achieved. We wanted them to be known,” Sarkissian said.
The film draws its strength from the way it is structured. Rather than telling the viewer what exactly is happening, it opts to show it instead. There is no narration, and the only intrusion on behalf of the directors is intermittent text insertions to give context or explain a concept. This allows the boxers to tell their own stories—to explain their own hardships, their own accomplishments and their own pains. In addition to the athletes’ points of view, the film also includes short segments in which regular citizens are asked their opinions on women in sport. Most times, the answers are very traditional: the boxing ring is no place for a woman, as her face might get scarred, which would prevent her from finding a husband.
When Joshi and Sarkissian decided to commit to producing this film, the original plan was to go in for two months, embed themselves in the boxers’ lives, then head back home. Instead, producing the documentary has been a decade-long adventure. The filming section of their project took six years and included four trips to India.
“People may think that being a filmmaker is quite glamorous, but it often involves having a day job and spending evenings and weekends on a project you’re really passionate about,” Sarkissian said. “There are lots of highs and lows in this type of work.”
With this Ring will be screened as part of Cinema Politica’s program on April 3 at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation. The screening will take place in H-110.