Whenever Milkha Singh trains for his runs, he wrings out his sweat from his drenched banyan into a mug. As the races become more challenging, the mug graduates to a bucket. Like the protagonist, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ has plenty to sweat over. One is to be true to a real life hero and the other is to match the incredible track record set by Tigmanshu Dhulia’s ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. Eitherways, it does not quite break any records.
The film starts with an impressive first 5 minutes setting a grand camera, light and sound play capturing the introduction of the famous Sikh athlete, Milkha Singh at 1960 Rome Olympics. Milkha (Farhan Akhtar) enters the stadium, like a champion, his lean body, overtoned muscles, thick veins, telling a story of their own. Milkha kneels in the starting position along with other runners and breaks into a speedy run. He is no longer Farhan, the actor. He is an athlete, out to conquer. About to win the 400-meter race, he turns his head and slows for a second. A brief flashback shot of a small turbaned boy running in the rain, is seen. Milkha’s race is ruined. So is the rest of the film.
The story goes back and forth constantly in a very stretched screenplay centering on Milkha’s past demons involving the India Pakistan partition.
Instead of dealing with the making of Milkha, the amazing athlete who earned the title of a ‘flying Sikh’, the story focuses on too many overemotional moments with his sister (Divya Dutta, excellent). A specific, powerful but entirely unnecessary scene shows Milkha as a child, being witness to a rough sexual act between her and her domineering, violent husband in a crowded refugee camp. More, heavy emotional moments are seen between Milkha, an army recruit and his first coach, (Pawan Malhotra, fabulous) which are more pertinent to the story. The film moves to a young, aimless Milkha who falls in love with a Punjab village belle, Bira(Sonam Kapoor) and walks around with her, carries buckets of water umpteen times, before he can ask her name.
Milkha’s journey from partition days’ trauma to knife wielding days in his youth to his running for a glass of milk as an army recruit, to becoming a celebrated Indian champion athlete, would have been much more engrossing if it wasn’t for the over the top, emotional treatment.
The director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who has given both a hugely successful, ‘Rang De Basanti’ and a mishap like ‘Delhi 6’, is clearly out to milk every aspect of commercial cinema, be it through too many songs or too many tear jerker scenes or stunning cinematography. Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics,”Zinda”, with Shankar- Ehsaan-Loy’s perfect music, create the right, inspirational impact. Mehra’s overambition and a sloppy edit almost ruins the apparent labour by the entire team.
Farhan Akhtar is admirable in his efforts, right from his evident hard work on his sinews, to his athlete posture to his Punjabi accent. But the supporting actors, especially Pawan Malhotra and Divya Dutta constantly out shadow him in their naturally, rustic appeal.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, may have some inspirational appeal as a Biopic. But it does not quite match the record that the real Milkha Singh set for India.