Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag 

Chariot Of Fire

The thoughts that come to mind while watching Bhaag Milkha Bhaag are unconnected to the film. India is so short of heroes—sports heroes in particular—that Milkha Singh who won his medals (no Olympic gold, alas) over half a century ago, can be the subject of a grand biopic. Imagine if China or Russia started making biopics of their star athletes, the world would be swamped by similar-looking films. There is something common in all strive-to-win films—the protagonist’s dedication, superhuman will and so on. That by itself is not all that interesting to watch, so Milkha has to be given a dramatic back story, which involves the Partition. Sadly, so many years (and several Partition carnage films) later, there’s not much juice to be extracted there. But to link this to Milkha Singh’s loss at the 1960 Rome Olympics, is stretching it a bit too much.

Not to undermine Milkha Singh’s achievements, especially when sports heroes (barring cricket stars) are not exactly lionised in the country, but his success had no long-lasting impact in Indian sports; the state of athletics is still pathetic, and India’s medal tally still shockingly low.

Still, it is commendable that after all these years, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra chose to honour an almost-forgotten hero, even if that means piling on the melodrama sky high, and meandering over episodes that had no real bearing on his life. Not to mention the  tepid romances (Sonam Kapoor and Rebecca Breeds being the objects of his affection). So overdone is the film, that you agree with the saying about truth being stranger than fiction.

After all the suffering borne while training, and the truly excruciating scene of Milkha Singh running with legs wounded, the bandages unravelling in slow motion, Mehra keeps going back to his Partition time trauma, which brings the films weak conflict over Milkha refusing to go to Pakistan and Pandit Nehru (Dalip Tahil) himself persuading him. Mehra uses flashbacks within flashbacks as Milkha’s first coach (Pavan Malhotra) narrates his story to the delegation sent to bring the recalcitrant hero from Chandigarh to Delhi.

The actor playing a young Milkha is bright, and Divya Dutta as Milkha Singh’s sister a scene stealer, but it is Farhan Akhtar who is outstanding, training body and mind to become the character, moving easily from innocently charming lad (the way he woos village belle with buckets of water) to runner whipping himself to win. If India’s sports establishment was so caring and the athletes so driven, the medal tally in the international arena would have been much higher. Perhaps this film serves a kick in the shin to wake up everybody who needs to be inspired to chase excellence. As entertainment it is wanting in many areas, its inordinate running time being the least of its problems.  A more ruthless editing and excising the forced song-and-dance numbers might have helped.

Finally, you emerge from the moviehall with Binod Pradhan’s cinematography and Farhan Akhtar’s matchless performance, that will give many a star a run at the awards next year.


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