15TH IDSFFK- Iron Women Of Manipur (2022): An inspirational viewing experience
Dipankar Sarkar, a noted Indian film critic and an alumnus of FTII, Pune, reviews the documentary Iron Women Of Manipur by Haobam Paban Kumar.
Iron Women Of Manipur is a documentary by Haobam Paban Kumar that pays homage to the sportswomen who have made significant contributions in the arena of Indian sports. From N. Kunjarani Devi, Padmashri Awardee 2011, and Anita Chanu, Dhyanchand Awardee, to the current weightlifting sensation of India, Mirabai Chanu, Padmashri Awardee 2018, the film follows the inspirational stories of the pioneers of women weightlifters. Sports journalist Ratneshwari Goswami serves as the film's narrator and subject expert. She provides insightful commentary on the challenges and triumphs faced by these athletes, highlighting their determination and resilience. Through interviews and archival footage, the documentary sheds light on the untold stories of these remarkable women, showcasing their impact on the sports landscape and inspiring future generations. It is about their inspirations, struggles and difficult exercise regimes that have shaped them into the athletes they are today, as much as it is about the sport.
The common thread that connects most of these sportswomen is the reality that they came from poor families, yet they managed to defy the odds and achieve. Their stories are a testament to the power of determination and resilience, as they overcame financial barriers to pursue their passion for sports. For instance, Chanu, after winning gold in the shot put, was rewarded a sum of one thousand by the then sports minister. This enables her to buy a sack of rice for two hundred rupees for her family members. The financial woes in her Kunjarani's family were not over even when her two sisters got jobs in the Manipur police department. It was in 1988, after she also got a job in the same department, that the dark clouds of poverty finally began to disperse. Through hard work and unwavering dedication, these sportswomen have not only become role models for others but have also shattered societal stereotypes surrounding poverty and success in sports.
In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the documentary could have been a hagiographical and sentimental dose of nostalgia. But instead, it offers a critical and thought-provoking examination of the subject matter. Paban treats the various protagonists of this documentary with such restraint that it presents a nuanced and authentic portrayal of their experiences. The editing by Sankha seamlessly weaves the interview with footage from their various matches and their training regimens, offering an exploration of the physical and mental challenges faced by these iron women.
In India, being a sportsperson is really difficult, and to be successful in sports, one needs to go through many struggles. The competition is fierce, with countless talented individuals vying for limited opportunities. The lack of proper infrastructure and financial support adds to the challenges faced by aspiring athletes in India. But the devotion shown by the women weightlifters from Manipur is truly inspiring. They continue to defy all odds and achieve remarkable success. Their dedication and passion for their sport are unmatched, as they train tirelessly despite the lack of resources and recognition. As the coach at Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports: Patiala, Vijay Sharma, says that the DNA of Manipuri women is made for weightlifting, it is clear that they have a god-gifted advantage in this sport. Hence, their achievements serve as a testament to their indomitable spirit and resilience, inspiring a new generation of athletes across the country.
Iron Women Of Manipur was selected in the competition section of short documentary at the 15th International Documentary and Short Film Festival, Kerala 2023.