Light Fly, Fly High
★★★1/2 (out of five)
Light Fly, Fly High is a documentary about a female boxer in India that plays like a feature film until near the end, when the tidy resolutions we associate with fiction don't occur. Reality can be so damn fuzzy. And frustrating. And sometimes anger inducing. I won't go into details right now, but there's a thuggish authority figure in this film ... if I had the money and the athletic ability, I would fly to India, walk into the guy's office and knock him into next Tuesday.
But I digress.
In 2005, Danish filmmakers Susann Ostigaard and Beathe Hofseth were intrigued by a photo article about female boxers in India. They wanted to know more about why women were participating in a sport so strongly associated with men in a country where most females adhere to rigid social rules. In January of 2010 they traveled to India where they met a boxer named Thulasi who stood out from the crowd. Four years and six trips later, Light Fly, Fly High is on the festival circuit.
When we meet Thulasi she is 24. This is important, because age 25 is the cut-off for a government program that secures well-paid jobs for successful athletes. To qualify, she must win a big match on a state or national level. Money is a major issue. Born in southern India, Thulasi is part of a lower caste. She ran away from home at 14 (her father wanted to marry her off to a colleague from work) and ended up becoming an adopted daughter to a middle-age couple with three children. They provided the funds for Thulasi to train for 10 years at a boxing club, but it's been a long time and they're looking forward to seeing Thulasi either stand on her own or get married.
The boxing club is run by Sir Karuna, the General Secretary of the Tumil Nadu Boxing Association. Providing a facility for the athletes is a positive thing, but there is corruption within the place. The trainers, we learn, are thieves – although the boxers' traveling expenses to tournaments are usually covered by the government, the trainers require the women to pay several hundred rupees to participate.
Even if a boxer wins at a tournament, she must get Sir Karuna's signature to get into the government job program. And what Karuna requires is revealed near the end of the film, when Thulasi publicly accuses him of being a sexual predator and files charges.
During the bulk of the film we hear voice-overs from Thulasi, but towards the end it stops and we just watch and listen as her plans take some unexpected turns. Through the ups and downs, she remains profoundly bullheaded. Thulasi doesn't get on a soapbox or wax poetic, she just says what she needs to say and takes care of business. One of the only grandiose statements you she makes is "I'm a one-woman army." Who could argue with that? —Ed Johnson-Ott
CAPSULE REVIEWS by Ed Johnson-Ott (EJO) and Scott Shoger (SS)
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