As Milkha Singh walks into Rome’s 1960 Olympic stadium for the 400m final and soaks in the atmosphere of the roaring crowd, with a little help from the background score, the energy is instantly contagious. The epic race is what Indians remember him by (now of course there is this film). What a dampener when he loses a place on the podium by a whisker. If only Bhaag Milkha Bhaag could change history. Actually it does romanticize the telling of Milkha’s already dramatic life.
This is some incredible source material, but writers Prasoon Joshi and Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra aren’t content and go on to make tenuous connections, fabricate episodes, and of course add lip-sync songs to attempt a Bollywood-friendly film. I suppose they succeed In this, but I’m not sure any of this was required at all considering the daunting run time of 187 minutes. It is in this regard the writing and editing departments pat themselves on the back and indulge each other.
If they’d been at loggerheads, it would’ve resulted in a eaner, tighter telling and that would’ve gone a long way in making BMB a modern- day classic. The tonality of the film’s various moods: primarily sports and romance are not consistent or cohesive with awkward transitions (on the other hand, transitions to flashbacks are superbly executed with seamless VEX). Partition plays a crucial part in defining The Flying Sikh’s life, and the film alludes a significant second factor that shapes him: his trysts with women.
The first half seeks to list Mllkha’s motlvatlng factors to run: HIS first exercise where he discovers he can un: a flashback within a flashback to his childhood with his proud father; his quick, fun, simple courtship with his first love Biro (Sonam Kapoor) that first inspires him to glory. Finally an evil rival within the Services, India’s champion 400m specialist, who galvanizes Milkha into running along side for national selections after assaulting and humiliating him. The action, for me at least, really kicks in in the second half.
Milkha Singh is now an international athlete of repute. He trains hard, runs hard, and most importantly, does ot allow himself any “distractions” in his quest to beat the 400m world record. This is the movie I’m Interested In watching. And It doesn’t disappoint. The races are shot expertly and there Is remarkable thought put behind trying not to make them repetltlve. There Is never a dull moment when Mllkha runs. unpalatable by local audiences) or Milkha Singh breaking the 400m world record. Can you imagine what a big deal this is?
A little boy refugee who wielded a knife and became a coal thief, went on to Join the army and eventually broke an athletic world ecord in the 1960? This is the story right here! Today the difference between the Indian best and the world’s best is 2. 3 seconds, an eon. But the moment passes by in a montage, and the climax is an unnecessarily Jingoistic showdown versus a Pakistani runner. Yes, it is a watershed moment for Milkha, his way of exorcising his demons (and we are repeatedly reminded of his tragic past), but would not a linear structure been equally effective?
Every scene Pavan Malhotra is present in as Milkha’s Junior-level coach, he takes a notch higher with his resolute performance. Japtez Singh goes beyond what any director could’ve hoped for as young Milkha. Sonam Kapoor in her 10-minuter is rather bland (not her fault, she’s allowing herself to be typecast), YograJ Singh is a casting miscalculation. His is the face we see most after Milkha’s and he never quite pulls it together. Right then, the bottom line is that you should watch this film for two reasons that supersede all else. Farhan Akhtar shows tremendous commitment in his role as the Flying Sikh.
I doubt any actor has worked harder on a physical transformation quite like Akhtar. He runs like a gazelle, with perfect precision, and how grueling it must be to do takes and retakes especially in locations like Ladakh. Maybe he should try out for India. But it is also his acting that surpasses all expectations. Farhan Akhtar is Milkha Singh. And finally, BMB deserves every ounce of praise for the filmmakers’ conviction on display. When you’re done watching Rakyesh Omprakash’s epic effort, you’ll come out of the theater wanting to run. And be a better person. This, right here, is the film’s ultimate victory.