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Movie Review: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag


A blind dash to nowhere
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | New Delhi, July 16, 2013 10:56
Tags : Bhaag Milkha Bhaag | Movie Review | Farhan Akhtar | Milkha Singh |

When a movie about a sprinting champ does not quite gallop to the finish, you know something is wrong. There is indeed much that is amiss with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.

Three hours and seven minutes long, the film is designed more like a cross-country obstacle race than the heart-pounding 400 metres dash it should have ideally been.

As a consequence, despite its top-notch production values and lead actor Farhan Akhtar’s spirited and no-holds-barred performance as the iconic protagonist, the bloated biopic fails to hit the home stretch on its feet.

The story is told primarily in the form of flashbacks. The events of Milkha Singh’s life are seen through the eyes of his coach Gurdev Singh (Pavan Malhotra) as he, in the course of a Delhi-Chandigrah train ride, seeks to explain to an adviser (KK Raina) to Jawaharlal Nehru (Dalip Tahil) why the great athlete wants to opt out of a trip to Pakistan.

Apart from not explaining how Gurdev Singh could have known the minutest details of Milkha’s tumultuous early life when in fact he got to know the man only after the athlete joined the army, BMB errs in resorting to full-on Bollywood-style storytelling, complete with songs and dances and maudlin melodrama.

The screechy pitch of the narrative shifts the focus away from the sheer intensity of Milkha’s bitter struggle to tackle the hard knocks of life in his quest to emerge as an all-conquering sportsman after drifting through his teens as a refugee trapped in a downward spiral. All that the loud background score and the high drama manage to do is turn the tale into an overlong, over-the-top spectacle.       

Prasoon Joshi’s excess-prone screenplay links Milkha’s career choice as well as his heart-breaking failure to win a medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics despite being in the lead for a large part of the race to his memories of the bloody Partition riots in which he lost his parents.

The title of the film comes from a desperate exhortation that his father Sampooran Singh (played by Art Malik) directed at him as he fled to save his life just before the family was massacred back in a Multan village.

On that fateful afternoon in Rome – that is where BMB opens – Milkha ‘hears’ his father’s voice at his back, turns around for a split second, and loses precious ground and the chance to finish on the podium. That is the kind of filmy drama that Bhaag Milkha Bhaag hinges on. Not convincing at all.

If you pass the endurance test and stay the course, you might find parts of the film visually and aurally engaging. Binod Pradhan’s cinematography lends BMB sustained sparkle and the songs composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are foot-tapping and hummable.

The track and field sequences are mounted and executed skillfully and the stadium settings are impressive. The hard work that Akhtar is clearly visible in the lean, muscular look he acquired for the film.

If only the actor had worked quite as hard on his diction, this would have been a star turn sans a blemish. Akhtar oscillates between rustic Punjabi youth to south Bombay sophisticate all too often.

BMB is evidence that ‘real’ biopics simply aren’t up Bollywood’s street. Watch the film only if you like your entertainment served up in a showy, shrill, whipped-up form.

Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017