BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG

In a scene in this much awaited biopic on Milkha Singh, when his coach tells him to concentrate on 400m, Milkha gleefully says it is very easy for him as he is used to running 20 laps in cross country. The coach retorts that now he has to put the energy of 20 rounds in one lap. Wish director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra had Milkha’s coach to tell him the obvious secret. He has made a marathon of a film on the man who almost flew.

Length is not a problem as long as you have the elements to hold the audience interest but here it goes round and round the eventful life of the champion athlete to eke out every bit of melodrama in over three hours as if there is no finish line. In the process the real story begins to sound fictional.

Milkha’s rags to riches story is so riveting that even if somebody narrates it to you over chai you will get goose bumps but here even a colossal canvas fails to stir emotions. Spurred by destiny, the man, who came from pits to soar on international horizon, didn’t deserve this kind of blatant manipulation of a commercial potboiler.

It is the writing that runs Milkha down here. It is made for people who need to be introduced to Milkha Singh but by the end they will leave with an impression Milkha’s most important race was his dash against Abdul Khaliq in Pakistan. That Rome Olympics (1960), where he broke the Games record, was just a footnote in his eventful career. Strangely, his Partition pangs are weaved into the screenplay as some sort of suspense about which nobody was aware of. Not even Jawaharlal Nehru (Dilip Tahil) and his secretary (K.K. Raina). So when his coach (Pavan Malhotra) narrates Milkha’s back story he could go on and on. By the time Mehra reveals that circumstances were the real villain, one doesn’t feel more informed or moved.

Respect for the subject is fine, but here Mehra is almost obsequious, turning the biopic into almost a hagiography, underlining every event with a swelling background score. With a much less budget, Paan Singh Tomar was a more rooted and entertaining interpretation of a sportsman’s life.

Writer Prasoon Joshi, in his first attempt at screen writing, has picked important milestones and moments from Milkha’s life and has strewn them together like an overwrought essay. The attempt to make his every race as the race against his painful past looks laudable in the beginning but by the end it becomes outright manipulative.

Off and on, the narrative does come to life. Like the camaraderie between Milkha and his friends during the Army training, Milkha’s bond with his sister (Divya Dutta understands pitch of the film and delivers) is beautifully captured. So are the funny anecdotes. Binod Pradhan ensures that the visual appeal of the film is arresting – though the flashbacks are too ‘designer’ to blend with the rest of the film – but when it comes to storytelling it remains a laboured attempt. There are scenes where you want to rush in with the scissors. There are background songs you want to put on mute mode.

Sonam Kapoor in a fleeting appearance fails to belong to the period and Prakash Raj’s Hindi only advances the South Indian stereotypes in Hindi cinema. Yograj Singh as the coach gives a master class in hamming, Dilip Tahil messes up as Nehru and the usually reliable Pavan Malhotra is unnecessarily high pitched. They look all the more odd because they inhabit the same frame as Farhan, who has almost transformed into Milkha. Watch it for Farhan, for we seldom see such obsession from mainstream actors to become the character. Purists will find his immaculate abs disproportionate to the times it is set in but his strides and his posture remind of the champion. He is the only man in the right lane, the rest stand disqualified!

SIXTEEN

Teenage years seldom find space on screen. Either we get films that pontificate or are inhabited with actors who have teenage sons and daughters. The date of coming of age is increasingly coming down and here director Raj Purohit is talking of teenagers we see around us. He is talking about a generation which finds everything overrated. They are in almost in a rush to lose virginity in more ways than one but then there is also an urge to find a perfect match for breakups can happen over as silly a reason as difference in music taste. The pangs of separation, the know-all attitude; the inability to take rejection, Purohit has weaved in multiple tracks into the screenplay without getting judgemental about the situation.

Here is a girl (Izabelle Leite), who is vying to be Miss India, changes boyfriends like bed covers but fails to take in the open marriage of her parents. Her friend (Mehak Manwani) wants to take the traditional route but peer pressure forces her into a physical relationship leading to a mess. Then there is a middle-class boy (Highphill Mathews), finding hard to place himself between his cool, upmarket friends and the aspirations of his strict father (Zakir Hussain cracks the character). It might sound exploitative on paper but the way Purohit has treated it, the scenarios are believable and he doesn’t mind strolling into the dark, complex alleys that sudden surge of hormones can lead to.

Among the girls, Vamiqa Gabbi excels as the ‘intelligent’ girl looking for mature company. The man in question is played by Keith Sequeira, who looks convincing as long as he speaks in English. Purohit has made good use of his half-baked actors. They look and behave the age and don’t appear rehearsed. It is this rawness which makes these snapshots on in-between years credible. The end looks contrived and parental guidance is needed to interpret it in the right context but this honest attempt does present the teenage with all its dimensions.

PACIFIC RIM

Smartly using the summer blockbuster clichés to dismantle the stereotypes that we associate with robotic nature of action adventure these days, director Guillermo del Toro has put together a machine with the semblance of a heart. Giving us a break from the recent cynicism spread by superheroes movies, here is a film that promotes team building. It is not about going solo to save the world, it is about building bonds to take on the obstacles.

Set in near future it opens when Earth is under attack by Kaiju. They are massive monsters which have emerged from the ocean floor. The humans take them through Jaegers, colossal humanoids, each controlled by two pilots whose minds are joined! Giving his imagination a wild run, del Toro focuses on Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a Jaeger pilot with a disturbing past. He comes out of retirement and teams with rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) in a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kaiju. The two unite and take us through some thumping action set pieces giving the child in us enough material to satisfy the guilty pleasures and along the way it slips in a massage how we have to work together against a constantly evolving opposition.