Friday, July 26, 2013

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag - Movie Review

Finally watched 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag'. It's decidedly long, at 3 hours, and like a reviewer noted, was more of a marathon when it should have been a 400 m race. The incredibly versatile Farhan Akhthar is brilliant as Milkha Singh, the Flying Sikh, who broke the World record for 400 m at the 1960 Rome Olympics, but came in fourth in a closely contested race. Hailing from Govindpura village in Pakistan, Milkha Singh witnessed the killings of his family, his father, mother, brother and two sisters in the riots after the partition of India, and escaped to Delhi hiding in the ladies compartment under a pile of dead bodies. Growing up in refugee camps and leading a life of survival, Milkha Singh found a sense of stability in his job in the army. Once he is selected to run for the army, Milkha Singh's career took off and he never looked back. Till date Milkha is the only male athlete from India to have won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games which he won in 1958. Milkha also won four golds at the Asian Games and his national record was broken only in 1998. And he came out of a refugee camp. Says much for the sports infrastructure in our country. Where are the millions going sir?

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra keeps flitting between the present and the past and after sometime it loses its steam because we are more interested in knowing how Milkha became the Flying Sikh and not so much all the other stories. Sadly, the athletic races, which normally give a great high normally, fail to capture the choking highs, save in two races. With a lot of good dramatic content, one of the most dramatic sports to handle, superb performances by Farhan, Divya Dutta and Pawan Malhotra - this film could have gone to another level if told more linearly and if it focused on Milkha's journey to the top - and less on romances and dalliances. His refusal to give in, his will power, his penchant for hard work, his drive to exceed all limitations and set new boundaries could have been explored. Why was Milkha like that - so driven. Apart from his past, the poverty and the hard childhood, the romance, there must have been something that made Milkha the Flying Sikh. I could not get it and I do not think the movie dwelt on that aspect much. (In later readings I found an interview where Milkha Singh said he was deeply impressed by the commitment to excellence that the athletic champions from across the world showed in the Melbourne Olympics that steeled his resolve to be up there with the best.)

If Rakeysh had begun the movie and ended it as Milkha had run it, it would have been bang on bull's eye. Now it meanders, rather slowly, and ends. It's a poet's version, and writer Prasoon Joshi is one, of what should have been an adrenalin pumping story of someone who pushed the bar all the time, someone who was a man in a man's world. To me it needed harder, direct treatment - unapologetic and honest.

Milkha had strong political views too, and refused to run the legendary race against Pakistan's Abdul Khaliq in the 1960 goodwill games between the two countries. He was finally persuaded by one other than the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Pakistan's President General Ayub Khan lavished high praise on the Sikh after the race which he won and gave him the title of Flying Sikh. Milkha Singh gives all credit to Pakistan for his sobriquet, the Flying Sikh, and does not fail to mention that even the late Makhan Singh, one of the athletes from India who gave Milkha a run for his money, also beat Abdul Khaliq in that race. It's worth trying to trace Makhan Singh's life, the man who beat Milkha Singh in the nationals once - there is nothing on him almost. (Makhan Singh, also from the army, sadly died in penury, after his life was beset by several ill fortunes. Milkha Singh apparently did help him by getting him a kerosene dealership.)

Coming to Nehru and Ayub Khan, I cannot see any leaders in current situations showing such grace, such qualities as both leaders did then - the former in taking the trouble to invite Milkha and reminding him of his duty and the latter for his wholehearted appreciation. If an athlete dares to dissent, it will be political vendetta in all likelihood these days. Milkha later even rejected an Arjuna award and held his views on that. I admire them, sportsmen like him and Mohammed Ali, singers like Bono, for speaking out their views.

Still it's a movie to watch for some stunning performances by the above mentioned who should be queuing up for awards. Farhan is Milkha in every sense and the dedication  he puts into this role is so obvious that you feel like getting up and clapping for him for just that - his dedication to play the role equals Milkha's own dedication to run and pursue excellence, Divya Dutta is simply brilliant as his older sister and Pawan Malhotra is as malleable and reliable as ever. Yograj Singh was a pleasant surprise, though he has some Shatrughan Sinha similarities, and I was surprised to know that he has already acted in several Punjabi movies - a multi faceted person surely for someone who played for India and was considered to be faster than Kapil Dev in his prime. Wonderful to see such lovely movies as this one, Paan Singh Tomar, and hope to see many more sports movies and bio pics of legendary sportsmen coming up. And for the legend of Milkha Singh a worthy tribute that should surely inspire some of the old values of dedication, hard work and will power in those who watch it.

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