Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s fine direction, Prasoon Joshi’s elaborate writing and the extraordinary performances from Farhan Akhtar, Divya Dutta and Pavan Malhotra make this one an engaging watch
We met Sonam Kapoor ahead of the release of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s magnum opus Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, starring Farhan Akhtar in the lead role of the legendary sprinter Milkha Singh. In the course of our chat Sonam made a surprising statement-“I never met Farhan (Akhtar) on the sets of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. He never turned up!” said Sonam who is playing the Flying Sikh’s love interest in the movie. Now, almost a week after that chat, as we sit down to file the review of the film, we second Sonam’s thoughts and understand her reasoning with much clarity. Even we as the audience could not find Farhan Akhar on the big screen. He never showed up! All we could see was India’s iconic sprinter Milkha Singh taking long strides with incredible speed and a burning passion in his mighty heart to make the country proud. Simply put, Farhan became the Flying Sikh to deliver the best performance of his lifetime as an actor.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has undoubtedly given a befitting tribute to India’s super-sprinter Milkha Singh by making a biopic with a mix of myriad emotions that will evoke a range of feelings in your heart while watching this movie. An average director with limited cinematic palate and sensibilities could have easily fallen into the trap of glorifying Milkha’s achievements as an athlete- given that India’s fastest runner ever has won 77 times of the 80 races he ran. But Mehra chooses to portray emotions over victories and hardships over glories of his protagonist to narrate an absorbing tale. In the process though he romanticises certain events in Milkha’s life and perpetually repeats them. Clearly, in some parts Mehra seemed to have lacked the much-needed restraint that could have made this film more gripping and crisp. Nevertheless, the 50-year-old filmmaker weaves various events in Milkha’s life and some quirky facets of his personality to create an interesting drama that has its heart in the right place.
Sports films normally follow a predictable path-the rise of an underdog who takes the world by storm with his unbelievable spirit and unparalleled achievements. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag does not take that clichéd path. Instead it investigates why Milkha Singh lost at the famous 1960 Rome Olympics where he had clinched the world record before? What made Milkha turn back at the crucial moment so close to the finishing line in the race that shattered India’s collective hope to win the gold at the Olympics? How Milkha’s horrifying past lurked over his present.
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra unfolds the story in a sepia-tinted form and gives a typical Bollywood-ish spin to it. The plot is nicely punctuated with various challenges Milkha faces and many failures he endures on both his personal as well as professional front to emerge on the global stage as an iconic athlete. Cinematically speaking BMB is well researched and detailed, but its indulgent screenplay mars the impact the story could have created. Mehra’s narrative is filled with many subplots that fail to keep pace with Milkha’s dramatic run. And yet there are moments that leave you teary-eyed thanks to the writer Prasoon Joshi who pens a moving story with mastery.
As for the performances Farhan, is Milkha Singh. The actor has invested himself emotionally as much as he trained physically to capture every nuance of the story to breathe and talk the man. Sonam Kapoor has a very small role and she has done justice to the part with ease. Prakash Raj as the stern military officer is good. Dilip Tahil’s theatrical performance to play Jawaharlal Nehru is unconvincing and comical. Divya Dutta and Pawan Malhatora are absolutely striking and remarkably endearing. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music will leave you charged with national pride, a true requirement of the biopic. Binod Pradhan’s cinematography is truly amazing.
All in all, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag many not be the iconic movie we were anticipating, but it certainly is a must watch. The director has made yet another earnest attempt to tell an engaging story in the most sincere way. At 3 hours 10 minutes BMB is long and unhurried, but it’s worth your money as Milkha takes those giant leaps of faith to win the race of his life.
Reviewed by Prathamesh Jadhav
**** Very good