Milkha Singh is by far India’s most respected and accomplished athlete. Nothing can diminish his glory. On the other hand, nothing makes his story cinema-worthy. And definitely not for three hours!
India does not seem to understand the meaning of a biopic. When you need to add fiction and comic relief to a man’s life, you must realize that the person’s life was not interesting enough for a film in the first place! The fact that you need to have sudden song sequences (I am shocked at how Bollywood-ish Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has become) and absolutely stupid scenes in airplanes shows your lack of faith in your subject itself. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is the story of a man who overcame hurdles and personal trauma to become a successful athlete. Now, where have I heard that story before?
The story begins with his loss at the Rome Olympics, flashes back to his journey through his army days, consequential training, affairs with women, failing at the Melbourne Olympics, training even harder (this is where you feast your eyes on the fabulous Farhan Akhtar body everyone has been talking about), and winning every possible race after that which leads to the Rome Olympics – which he loses, yet again.
Let us note that he did not win any Olympic title.
Moving on, the whole country – including PM Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru – keeps convincing him to go to Pakistan for a friendly race. Milkha is reluctant as he does not want to face the horrors of his past (which is what kept him away from winning the Rome gold, according to the film), but then he takes a trip down memory lane, and beats the Pakistanis – which becomes the climax of the film.
So, even after so many decades, the climax of a film still is India beating Pakistan at something. Not a man fighting the ghosts of his past. Not even him actually beating the world record (as claimed by the film. Contradictory data says otherwise. Quoting Wikipedia here – “Some sources say that he set a world record of 45.8 seconds in France, shortly before the Rome Olympics in the same year (1960) but the official report of the Games lists the record holder as Lou Jones, who ran 45.2 at Los Angeles in 1956) and making history with a new record speed. No. It all boils down to beating the Pakistanis. The sheer immaturity of the narrative curve of the film is shameful.
Areas where BMB goes wrong:
One – if you want me to believe that, that pudgy sardar kid became Farhan Akhtar in just T H I R T E E N years, I am not buying it. Farhan, however fantastic he looks in this film, does NOT look 25. And manipulating the beard is hardly a cheat code anymore to hide an actor’s age.
Two – How is it that the man who has been running for over five years suddenly has his traumatic past visiting him at the Rome Olympics? How is it that his past does not visit him every time he runs? How is it that even during his very first race, the prospect of milk triggers him more than his father screaming ‘bhaag Milkha bhaag’ seconds before having his head sliced off?
Three – The introduction of the love angles and interests were absolutely unnecessary. Sonam Kapoor has a total of five minutes screen space with just two-line dialogues. His firang girlfriend enjoys the same film span. He goes ahead and actually turns the third one down – thus reducing that horny swimmer’s screen time even more. The director himself proves that they were unnecessary characters.
Four – The director’s lack of good judgment when deciding what to make the climax of the film remains the most disappointing aspect of it. Everyone knows he lost the Rome Olympics. And the film states that upfront. There is almost a sense of ‘now what?’ half way into the film. You try to figure out what can be a bigger achievement than the Olympic gold. I cannot harp enough on how idiotic the climax is. Also throw in a couple of mean Pakistani athletes and coaches (as if being mean is a Pakistani prerogative) and absolutely juvenile Pakistani media. Very disappointing. And this is the man who made Dilli 6?
Five – (a) while on an airplane, Milkha Singh starts screaming that something is wrong because they are above the clouds and nothing can be seen. The co-pilot (ROM in a cameo) comes out – surprise surprise – to pacify him! (b) Australian chicks come over and ask the Indian team – where are you guys relaxing? Milkha Singh replies – No, main Milkha Singh. 400 metres. (c) A whole Shammi Kapoor-style song-and-dance routine in an Aussie pub with Milkha Singh dancing with aussies to rehearsed choreography. (d) Because a policeman roughs up a young Milkha who is carrying two cans of ghee home for his sister, Milkha drinks the ghee up and does push-ups amidst loud cheering from bystanders – who later carry him into the village on their shoulders! Do I need to go on about how LAME a huge chunk of the film is? And how much should have been actually edited?
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is good, if not their best. While the editing is a huge letdown, the cinematography shows experiment and promise. I still have no idea why Sonam Kapoor agreed to do this film. Farhan fails to impress, other than his musculature, of course. Funnily, in a film where he plays the title role, you won’t remember one scene where his ‘acting’ shines. Divya Dutta is the only actor who shines through with a dedicated supporting performance rarely seen in Bollywood. Your heart goes out to her as she breathes such honesty and passion into her role. Look out for the scene where she reunites with her brother at the refugee camp. The rest of the cast supports well, even if they didn’t shine bright. Dalip Tahil cannot pull off a Nehru.
If this is what ROM has to offer after so many years, my disappointment knows no bounds.