Dir.:Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
As I lifted my aching bums from the seat after watching this film the uppermost thought in my mind was a silent thank you to the guardian angels of cinema.After all if this is how we approach biopics I am so happy that Gandhi was made by a foreigner 30 years ago.If Bollywood had a shot at it, they would have made the Mahatma do garba and dandiya with Kasturba and his brave and honest experiments with celibacy would have turned to sleaze.There would have been Zulu dancers during his South Africa phase, soulful ghazals when he visits Amritsar in the aftermath of Jalianwala Baag massacre and sufi songs when Hindu Muslim riots break out.There would also have been some Englishman raping a Indian girl and a sexy mujra in the court of a debauched Maharaja.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag tries to tell the story of India’s greatest athlete in the only language that Bollywood understands – the musical.Indeed a sporty musical can be done very well as Lagaan demonstrated but this film simply does not have the material to carry off a handful of songs.It all begins at the Rome Olympics in 1960 where Milkha Singh comes fourth in a photo-finish despite being the world record holder and a favorite to win the race.The reason for his poor showing is a backward glance which according to the film is the massacre of his family during the partition coming back to haunt him.Nothing is further from the truth. Milkha Singh lost because he made a strategic blunder in running too fast during the first 250 meters and tried to slow down which cost him the race.That and his being in lane 5 which creates a blind spot and a disadvantage for a sprinter.So much for a biopic!
The film ends with a cricket match final.Now how can that be since this film is about athletics? I am lying of course, the director wisely reduces his race in Pakistan to a India Pakistan war as it happens in every Indo-Pak cricket match and ends the film on a jingoistic note! And yes we take a full three hours to reach this convoluted climax.
The story of Milkha Singh is a great story, his lost childhood, his parents murder during the partition, his rise to running glory, his infamous loss at the Rome Olympics which led to him hitting the bottle, his win in Pakistan and him turning down the Arjuna Award.But Mr Mehra finds it more important to dwell on his romance while growing up and his one night stand with a hot Australian girl during the Melbourne Olympics.A chiseled Farhan doing push ups at the beach with a buxum bikini clad blond lying on his back should be paisa wasool!
To the films credit the races are filmed with great finesse, the training sequences are epic, Farhan Akthar has a body to die for or to kill for and some of the incidents of his early life are very engrossing. Undoubtedly Farhan as Milkha is a casting coup and the effort he puts into becoming Milkha Singh translates into a superlative performance.The big budget is up on the screen, the attention to period detail is exquisite and Binod Pradhan’s camerawork top-notch. Pawan Malhotra is downright brilliant as his coach.There is this shot when Milkha Singh get taken over by the coach of the national team and Pawan Malhotra looks at him with an expression that is a mixture of pride and sadness, he is loosing his most talented protégée and is happy for him.That shot alone redeems this film.
Bhaag Milkha Bhag is a stellar example of a wasted opportunity, this could have been a good film if 70 minutes had been chopped and it could have been a great film if it had focussed on Milkha Singh the man and athlete and not on Farhan Akhtar the alpha male with the body of a Greek God.Even after three hours of watching this film we are none the wiser about the profession of running or what it must have been like to be Milkha Singh in the first decade of India’s independence or what the legacy of this great athlete is.
Bhaag Audience Bhaag!