‘Magnificent Mary Kom’, the only Indian at the inaugural women’s boxing event at the London Olympics 2012, is all set to take the fight tomorrow. Two young fine arts graduates who have been shooting an independent film on women boxers in India, tell us more about the country’s female pugilists and their struggle to be.
Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian met while completing their Bachelors of Fine Arts at Concordia University. Fascinated by the lives of Indian women boxers, they joined forces to create a documentary film on them, With This Ring. Here they talk about their journey, challenges and the relationships that they have nurtured with India’s under-appreciated sportswomen.
First published at Women’s Web, an online community for the thinking Indian woman.
Anne John (AJ): Tell us how “With This Ring” started.
Ameesha Joshi (AmJ): In 2005 I saw a picture of a woman boxer from India at a photo exhibit in Montreal. This photo got me curious and prompted me to do some research, and that’s how I learned that India had women boxers that were ranked some of the world’s best. I was inspired to learn about these women who were mostly from the more rural and traditionally conservative areas. Although I was raised in Canada, my parents immigrated from India and I am familiar with the culture. I could just imagine the struggles boxers would be facing in pursuing an “unladylike” sport. I was inspired by their courage and felt the desire to share their remarkable stories.
Anna Sarkissian (AS): I’ve always been interested in stories that would otherwise be overlooked or forgotten. As for what intrigues me about these women: they are so unique, and yet unassuming. For a long time, they didn’t really understand why we were interested in filming them. They live tough lives, and train in difficult conditions to pursue a sport that many might consider laughable. I have profound respect for the amount of discipline, physical and mental strength that boxing requires. I am in awe of their dedication.
AJ: How has the experience been?
AmJ: The experience has been very enriching, but not without its challenges. We had every expectation of finishing the film back in 2006, when Anna and I travelled to India for the first time. Delhi was hosting the world championships, and the Indian team won 4 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals, crowning them the number one team in the world. Yet one of the biggest challenges on that shoot was our restricted access to the boxers. They train 6 days a week, 3 times a day and for 10 months of the year, leaving very little free time. I also don’t speak Hindi so we had to deal with the language barrier. It took a lot of time for us to create a relationship with our characters.
AS: The experience was incredible – it taught me so many things about myself, about working with others, about power and privilege. I see both Canada and India in a very different light after working in both countries – I appreciate certain things more and question other things. We were so warmly welcomed in India and travelled to little towns and villages that we would have never discovered on our own. We have had considerable help from a huge number of Indians – from friends and volunteers to sports journalists, boxing officials and human rights lawyers. They have guided, helped, and even fed us along the way.
AJ: What challenges did you face while filming?
AS: Funding has been a challenge. We are very grateful to the Canadian Arts Councils that have given us grants, but our budget was tiny compared to other productions of this kind. In 2008, we spent the summer in India at the boxing camps, where there are frequent power cuts and intermittent running water.
AJ: Any memorable moments from your meeting with the legendary Mary Kom?
AmJ: Watching Mary fall to her knees in tears after winning her fourth gold medal at the 2008 World Championships in Ningbo, China. It was her first medal after giving birth to twin boys. We saw Mary at the training camp in the summer of 2008 when she returned to train after a two-year hiatus with a baby in each arm. She was often up all night from them crying, but always got up at the crack of dawn with all the other boxers for gruelling workouts. People doubted she could regain her title and judged her for returning to the sport after having children. Her determination to overcome these obstacles made her emotional win even more moving.
AJ: How does the act of filming your subjects over time affect your relationship with them, and in turn, your film? Can the film-maker be “objective” and is it necessary to be objective?
AmJ: A unique and creative perspective to telling a story is essential in capturing reality, not just fiction. For this reason I feel the beauty of a documentary is in its subjectivity. I don’t think it’s necessary to be objective, but it is necessary for the filmmaker to be responsible in how they portray the people and stories in their film.
AS: Whether you are writing an article or recording a scene, you are manipulating reality and re-packaging according to your own world view. Like other art forms, filmmaking is highly subjective and we will be presenting our version of the events. Over time, we have only gotten closer to our characters, and hopefully that will be reflected in the film.
AJ: How has the response been to With This Ring? What do the boxers you’ve covered feel about it?
AS: The boxers have been incredibly patient over the last six years. They are anxious to have the film finished, but honestly, they have more important concerns right now (i.e the Olympics). The general response to With This Ring has been very positive. People are always amazed to hear that India has a team. We just can’t wait for THE match!
Check out With This Ring on Facebook.
Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian are also on a fundraising drive to raise money to pay for post-production of their film. Their goal is to make $17,500 (approx Rs. 962,000) by Aug. 22, 2012. You can support them on their Indiegogo campaign page.
First published at Women’s Web, an online community for the thinking Indian woman. Re-published here by arrangement with Women’s Web.