Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: A pretty piece of fluff

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Movie Review

I admit I went to see Bhaag Milkha Bhaag with a lot of expectations – and that’s always a wrong thing to do coz expectation leads to disappointment. The movie is, as we all pretty much know (or think we do) based on ex army man, former Olympics (three games: 1956, 1960 and 1964) participant and Padmashri award holder, the Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh.

Coming from a director like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who gave us the eminently watchable ‘Rang de Basanti,’ I wonder what happened here. Undue cinematic license has been taken with a story that anyway, in its reality, has so many twists and turns already. Can’t help but compare this one with ‘Paan Singh Tomar,’ also a real-life story of a former army man and athlete that remained clean and focussed in its telling.

Mehra has pulled out all the stops to play to the gallery. Reference the scene where Biru (Sonam Kapoor) and Milkha (Farhan Akhtar) are sitting on the bridge and her chunni flies off and the two start giggling…like, seriously?? In the Punjab of old, where a girl’s chunni is considered a sign of her modesty and virtue?  Get real! Also, it’s about time Hindi movies did away with completely unnecessary song sequences that are wholly irrelevant to the story, which brings me to my next point – no Indian army officer worth his salt is going to be seen doing a jig in his uniform, he respects it too much! This dance scene is a blatant distortion of the facts and I wonder the Indian army allowed it to pass uncensored – what is the PRO smoking?? The police uniform has already been ridiculed plenty in our Bollywood sagas and now it seems it is the turn of the olive-green; is nothing sacred anymore?! And I fail to understand why the sister getting slapped around and forced to indulge in a sexual act with her husband in the refugee camp has any bearing on the story, except for the purpose of titillating the audience and adding a drama element.

There is a lot of time and footage spent on the traumatic childhood and Partition displacement and not nearly enough on what went into making this man the Flying Sikh,and that, after all, is why the movie was made innit – because an ordinary man rose above the ordinary? His time in the Army has been fairly glossed over; Milkha Singh was in the EME and I am privy to some of his history there. I have also had the privilege of meeting the real Mr Milkha Singh, a simple, unassuming man with a neat line of stubbornness running through him.

The film makes it out to be a piece of cake – and life for Milkha, so far as his running aspirations were concerned, was anything but. The character (Gurdev Singh) essayed by Pavan Malhotra is true to a great degree however, nobody else really believed in Milkha when he started out nor was he excused any duties until after he had proven his worth! The man just had a passion for running, plain and simple; he used to practise on an abandoned basketball field near Cavalry Barracks in Secunderabad because there was no other ground available. He started out as a jawaan; after he was promoted to honorary officer, he attended a corps Reunion where the autocratic, aristocratic chiffon-and-pearl brigade (the army wives) looked down their noses at him because he, a former NCO (non commissioned officer) dared sit at the same dining table with them!! I am glad he has not disclosed many of these hurtful and distasteful details in spite of all his achievements – although I do notice the EME is not thanked in the credits!

Undoubtedly, the movie belongs to Farhan Akhtar. He is to be commended for the immense training and hard work over months that he has put into this role; the manner in which he has built up his body is simply fantastic. He has tried to stay true to the character of the real Milkha as much as possible, and that couldn’t have been easy, although the Punjabi accent needed more working on. Here’s the thing though – he put in effort, and it shows. Whereas Irrfan Khan in ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ turned in a brilliant, effortless performance.

Sonam Kapoor does a good job of pouting and looking coy by turns although her character is written off too abruptly. Very nice indeed to see Pavan Malhotra back in action, and he doesn’t disappoint.  One truly felt he was the inspirational coach he was playing. Art Malik as Milkha’s father was a pleasant surprise. Always a pleasure to watch Divya Dutta. There was some over-the-top stuff here but hers not to question, hers but to do –and she did what the script demanded.

So we come back to that, innit. Prasoon Joshi, credited with the story, has apparently stated that the film is not a mirror of Milkha Singh’s life, but is an interpretation. Well, praise be for making that clear!  It’s quite possible the real Milkha had a teenage infatuation near the village water well, but somehow, asking me to link the Milkha I’ve met with the Aussie-cavorting chappie in the movie boggles my imagination beyond belief! Those scenes appear to have been bunged in more to showcase Australia’s stunning beaches and of course, the mandatory smooch scene without which no Indian movie is complete in this, Indian cinema’s glorious 100th year of existence!

Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is splotchy, except for ‘Zinda.’ Direction – Mehra has ambitiously over-stretched himself. Cinematography by Binod Pradhan leaves much to be desired, and the original snippets of the Olympics etc have not been injected with much degree of coherence. The editing is way, way off; the movie is over three hours in length!

A thought in passing… how come none from Milkha Singh’s generation or ours thought to emulate or even remember, this living person but we all waited for this movie to be released and now, we are “proud” of him?!

What next – a movie on centenarian Fauja Singh??

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