A 12-year-old Milkha saw his family getting butchered. To survive, he ran over to India and took shelter at a refugee camp.
His ongoing biopic on yesteryear’s star athlete Milkha Singh was made to bridge the gap between the estranged sub-continent neighbours. Now, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is planning to release his Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in Pakistan.
“I am planning to release Milkha’s biopic in Pakistan. One of my Pakistani friends had tears in his eyes after watching the film and he was confident that it will bring the two countries closer together,” said the director.
“Farhan Akhtar, who transformed himself into the legendary athlete, will visit Pakistan along with the rest of the crew,” added Rakeysh.
Making Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, which took three years of blood, sweat and tears, has been a life-changing experience, he said adding that the lack of funds to complete the film forced him to “sell my Gurgaon flat and even sell my wife’s shares.”
“But making this film was important to me. I was fascinated by Milkha right from childhood. I came across his autobiography in Gurmukhi. His son Jeev was instrumental in getting us the film’s rights,” says the director.
Stating that the Partition remains a painful caesarean for the people of the sub-continent, the film-maker said he realised that the film on Milkha — a victim of the massive uprooting of people on both sides of the border — will touch upon this sensitive subject.
“Whether it was the holocaust during World War II or violence in Rwanda or any other part of the world, women and children suffer the most. Similarly, the Partition resulted in numerous families getting uprooted. Here was this 12-year-old boy [Milkha] who saw his family getting butchered. To survive, Milkha ran for his life, and after crossing over to India took shelter at a refugee camp. He even picked up the knife in order to survive. Milkha won us quite a few medals and even though he lost the most important race of all, he won the race of his life.”
Rakeysh added that though Milkha was hesitant about participating in a sports event in Pakistan, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru convinced him.
“His lightning speed at the event won him admirers in Pakistan and earned him the sobriquet of the ‘Flying Sikh’ from Pakistani General Ayub Khan.”
Rakeysh says that Farhan will always be remembered for immortalising Milkha Singh on the screen “just like Amjad Khan was known as Gabbar Singh in Sholay and Amitabh as Vijay in Deewar.”
As for his upcoming projects, he will soon make a romantic movie. He concedes that the romance depicted in classics like Mughal-e-Azam was different from contemporary films, which focus on teenage infatuation.
“Love is a basic human emotion. We fall in and out of love. The folklore of Mirza-Sahiba has always intrigued me. Gulzar bhai is writing the script of the film, which will be based in Rajasthan. The deserts and the landscape of Rajasthan have always fascinated me.”
The director, who grew up in the labyrinthine lanes of Gali Paswan in the Walled City, adds: “Gali Qasim Jaan was adjoining our residential area, but I never knew that the world’s best poet Mirza Ghalib lived there.”