No, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is not a boring biopic or a detail-obsessed docudrama on one of India’s greatest sporting legends. It is an old-fashioned Bollywood film that caters to mainstream Hindi audiences. It would be more accurate to call this a tribute film inspired by the life of Milkha Singh than refer to this as a history lesson. The film acknowledges this when it ends with a disclaimer: “Inspired by a true life”.
And yes, it’s a complete sell-out of a film. But no complaints there because the best way to honour a legend is to make a film that a majority of India would watch. In an idiom that they prefer, even if it means exaggeration, melodrama and creative liberties with the hero’s love life. And Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra deserves that artistic licence considering that Milkha did indeed face extreme struggle, rose from abject poverty and had to make peace with his painful past.
The film’s writer Prasoon Joshi admitted that the film is only an interpretation of his life and not a mirror of Milkha Singh’s life.
Fair enough. Because this is a country that has traditionally consumed history through myths. And as the dramatic title screams: Expect no subtleties.
But the question is: why make it an indulgent, slow-paced 188-minute film if the idea is to make more people, especially the mobile phone obsessed youth, watch it? The film intends to be a leisurely told story during a train journey from Delhi to Chandigarh. Like the havaldar storyteller’s fondness for Milkha that makes him ramble on about his life, the makers too take the phrase ‘jog through memory lane’ a little too literally as they tell the story as a collection of anecdotes, incorporating some old jokes as well: “Are you relaxing?” “No, I am Milkha Singh”.
But within the idiom and mainstream sensibility chosen to tell this story, Bhaag Milka Bhaag gets most things right. The narrative stops at song, dance, romance, comedy and drama stations instead of racing to the finish line but the good news is that Farhan Akhtar makes all of it work with his sincerity and intensity. You only wish he stayed true to character and didn't sport a metrosexual chest.
It is a role that demands extreme physical fitness and Farhan ensures we see the blood, sweat and tears that went into Milkha’s struggle with himself. Divya Dutta and Prakash Raj are superlative in brief roles and Jabtej Singh who plays little Milkha is a natural. Rebecca Breeds is such a stunner that we really can’t blame Milkha for getting distracted.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s songs work magic but the background music (they have scored along with Tubby) tries too hard to make us feel sad during the struggle scenes. Binod Pradhan makes the frames look so great that no director would have the heart to chop down the length.
It’s just too long and exhausting a journey at the end, but one we must take. To celebrate a hero. And to encourage the rarely attempted genre.
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Divya Dutta, Sonam Kapoor, Rebecca Breeds, Pavan Malhotra, Meesha Shafi, Prakash Raj, Yograj Singh, Jabtej Singh
Storyline: A boy who runs away from Pakistan during the Partition needs to confront his past and run the race of his life.
Bottomline: Farhan’s terrific, the film melodramatic, mostly good but should have been rightly called ‘Chal Milkha Bahut Time Hai’ given its slow, indulgent pace
Keywords: Bhaag milkha bhaag review