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Women Boxers In India: With This Ring

<cite>With This Ring</cite> is an independent documentary film by Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian. Since 2006, they’ve been tracking the Indian Women’s National Boxing Team, who are some of the best boxers in the world.

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Ameesha heads to Hot Docs

Ameesha Joshi at Hot Docs
Ameesha reporting from Toronto where I’ve been getting a crash course on the documentary industry at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, and it’s been an eye opener. The industry is not exactly thriving but Hot Docs is - you’ve got jam packed theaters on a Tuesday afternoon! I’ve met lots of great people and am learning where our film would fit into this market. And I’ve got three more days to spread the word on our film to the right people, ah well, I guess that means more cocktails parties! It’s tough but someone’s got to do it.

(Anna couldn’t make it as she is studying in England this year. But she sends her love.)

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Mary awarded top sportsperson in Northeast

Mary’s on a roll as this year rolls to an end.

On Dec 29th, Mary Kom was presented the Dinesh Goswami Memorial Award, which goes to the best sportsperson from the North Eastern states of India.

Many of India’s successful athletes are from this region of the country, including one third of the boxers from the Senior Women’s Boxing team.

On top of this she was included in the list of people who made it into Rediff.com’s Year End Special.

Rediff.com, India’s popular online web portal, profiles a few outstanding men and women at the end of every year.

Not surprising Mary made the cut as their sportsperson of the year after clinching her 5th gold medal at the world championships in Barbados this summer, making her the most successful amateur boxer in history.

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Live! From Radio Canada

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Radio Canada

Anna and I being interviewed by host Marc Montgomery

Click here to check out our interview on The Link’s Indo-Canadian report segment for Radio Canada International. It was our first chance to discuss the film on radio and had 7 minutes of precious air time to do it!

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Mary Kom’s in the papers

MC Mary Kom is definitely getting more attention in the media these days. Recent articles including the NY Times are highlighting Mary as a shining example of one of the many world class women athletes in India coming from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.

For the first time in the Commonwealth Games, the women in India have won more medals for their country than the men. Out of the 101 medals awarded to India, 56 were won by women.

The majority of these medal winners are from rural areas in the state of Haryana. Haryana is unfortunately known for having the highest female infanticide rate in India but is recently becoming famous for something more positive - its women athletes, particularly in the male dominated sports of boxing and wrestling. Geeta Singh Phogat was all over the news after winning the first gold ever for women’s wrestling in India.

It’s encouraging to see other women athletes like Mary going against the grain and reaching such success.

When Anna and I spoke to Colonel Murli, Secretary General of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation at the last World Women’s Boxing Competition in Barbados, he told us “it’s the poverty [of these boxers] that drives their hunger for success. If they grew up with life’s luxuries there is a good chance they would not work as hard, be as tough.”

Women’s boxing wasn’t included in the Commonwealth Games this year but it’s sure to be a part next time, and when it is you can bet the female to male medal ratio will be tipped even further.

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Sarita cries foul play

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Mary (left) and Sarita during happier times.

Championship boxer Sarita Devi is claiming favouritism and politics are the reason for being ousted from competing at the upcoming Asian Games this November.

Sarita was beaten by MC Mary Kom at a selection trial for the Asian Games on Sept. 22, days after returning from the 6th World Women’s Boxing Championships in Barbados.

Sarita is now demanding a retrial and an investigation into the matter by the Sports Minister or she’s hanging up her gloves and returning the prestigious Arjun Award which she won in 2009.

Why all the drama?

Sarita says she was already chosen to represent India at the Asian Games during the first selection trial held end of August at their training camp in Bhopal. She is accusing the Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) of withholding the results and then conducting a second selection trial without an adequate explanation.

She contends that a few members of the IBF are playing favourites. Read Sarita’s press release here.

There are only three weight categories for women’s boxing at the Asian Games and 2012 Olympics. This means Sarita and Mary are both competing in the same category (51 kg) and for the first time in their careers are up against each other.

We asked Mary and Sarita in Barbados if this caused any tension between them and they sincerely answered there was none, but both expressed disliking the politics in the sport without getting too specific.

Since they are both characters in our film, it will be interesting to follow this story to see what happens next. Will Sarita leave boxing forever? It would certainly be an unexpected turn of events for our film.

We wait with baited breath to see how the dust settles.

In the meantime Sarita is currently the back up boxer for Mary at the Asian Games. The other two boxers selected to represent India are Preeti Beniwal (60 kg) and Kavita Goyat (75 kg).

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Day 8 - Access problems

http://www.vimeo.com/15042561

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Bollywood beats in B’dos

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We’re halfway through the competition and India still has three boxers in the running: MC Mary Kom (48 kg), Laxmi Padiya (81 kg), and Kavita Chahal (+81 kg).

They don’t have the home court advantage that they experienced at the world championship in Delhi in 2006 (where they were number one). Many of their senior boxers are either injured, retired or married with kids. Plus, the sheer number of participants has increased dramatically so the competition is getting stiffer.

But despite the results, their spirits remain high and they are confident about making a comeback. And we’re in Barbados – it’s hard not to enjoy life.

Speaking of which, boxers Pavitra and Priyanka pulled us onto the dance floor this evening during a fiesta at their hotel. We had no choice but to bust a move to the live reggae band playing by the pool. We took this fine opportunity to try out some of our Bollywood dance moves. They approved.

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Found in translation

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Meenakshi, Ameesha, and Chhoto (onscreen) translating an interview.

There was a major language barrier for us in India when we shot our film. The boxers and coaches on the Indian team speak mainly in Hindi and I grew up in Canada my whole life and unfortunately only speak English, so we actually did not understand what was being said most of the time we were filming them.

When we conducted interviews with the boxers we needed a translator, and that was anyone we could find wherever we were in India at the time, who was willing to help us out. We also had so little time to interview the boxers due to their jammed packed training schedule six days a week. The time was actually so precious in fact we often had no time for the translator to explain their answers to us in English, we just had to move on to the next question, the interview process was definitely a matter of faith. Sounds crazy to make a film in this way, but we had no choice. We’re getting to know the boxers even more now since we can finally understand everything they’re saying.

We are almost done translating the interviews, and feel as though we have struck gold in finding Meenakshi Malhotra to translate our footage from Hindi to English. Meenakshi moved to Canada from Gurgaon, India in December 2006 and is currently pursuing her PhD in Biomedical Engineering at McGill. She was recommended through a friend and is perfect for the job because she’s from Haryana, the same state as most of the boxers and understands their dialect perfectly. The majority of people from Haryana speak a dialect called Haryanvi.

Anna and I have been lucky in encountering so many kind people in making this film and Meenakshi is no exception. Although she is super busy with her PhD, she is very generous with her time and works super fast, but best of all she’s fun to work to with!.

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The Next Generation

frauenboxen_framed_014.jpgPhoto by Andy Spira

With less than two years until the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the race is on for India’s women boxers to prove they should be selected to represent their country, and let me tell you the competition is pretty fierce in their own backyard.

Our film focuses on the Senior Women Boxers on India’s National team, some of them have been training since 2000, and craving the possibility of an Olympic dream for a long time. But there is a new explosion of younger boxes toughening up the competition.

Four-time world champion Mary Kom will train like never before to represent her weight category in the Olympics (48-51kg). Her recent defeat against younger boxer Pinky Jangra at the last national competition is a sign that the talent and skill among the younger generation is getting stronger by the day.

Laxmi Negi’s recent article in The Times of India, highlights these new kids on the block, such as 18 year old Krishna Thapa, from Maharashtra, who was awarded the best boxer at nationals.

17-year-old Sagar Tokas, new on the scene, has been compared to championship boxer Sarita Devi because of her similar build and graceful boxing style. Tokas has been impressing the coaches and feels confident she can beat the more senior women in her weight category given another year of training.

Either way, this increase in competition will only force them to step up their game, making them tough contenders at the next Olympics.

I think its awesome that more and more girls are getting into the sport, it’s a good sign that it’s getting easier for women to pursue whatever they want in India, and that is definitely something to cheer about.

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Memories of Christmas in Delhi & Imphal

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Some of the wonderful Manipuri people we met in Delhi during our first shoot in India.

It was December 2006 when Anna and I celebrated Advent Christmas with some of the kindest folk we ever met. We were staying at a hostel run by the Zimiks, a Manipuri family, who after just a few days of knowing us, invited us to the Christmas service at their church and their annual Advent Christmas Party.

The party was a jolly good time and they went out of their way to welcome us.

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An incredibly unflattering photo of Anna and I as we partake in one of the games at the Christmas party that involved eating a very large slice of cake in one bite.

It was during this experience that we came to understand the extraordinary kindness found in Manipuri people.

The Zimiks were tremendously helpful in assisting us to get the permission required to visit Manipur. Foreigners need a special permit and the process can take months. Thanks to them we got there and had the chance to experience the Christmas spirit all over again in Imphal, Manipur, where it is alive and kicking.

I remember one night during a power outage, carolers passed below our guesthouse. Their voices were beautiful and because of the power outage you could barely make them out in the dark and they were the only sound you could hear.

It was one of those magical moments you could never explain.

Luckily we don’t have to because Anna grabbed the camera likety-split and caught the scene right before they vanished into the darkness.

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