Every sports movie has that crucial match or race in the climax, which the hero or his team will invariably win and the whole movie is about how he got there and why we should root for him when he plays. The same goes with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a biopic of one of the best athletes our country has produced–Milkha Singh. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra concentrates on the “Flying Sikh’s” struggle to overpower the ghosts of his horrendous past and traces his life from his childhood till his iconic win in Pakistan, which earned him the famous moniker. We are told Milkha’s story in bits and pieces as his first coach Gurudev Singh (Pawan Malhotra) narrates it to a government official during a train journey from Delhi to Chandigarh. They are on their way to convince Milkha to lead the Indian contingent for an upcoming sports meet in Pakistan. But Milkha refuses to go. And, why he does so forms the rest of the 3 hours and 10 minutes of the film. The initial scenes of Milkha in the army training camp are endearing. He is initiated into running when he happens to be in the top ten in a cross country race held in the camp. But this was not the first time that Milkha was running. He ran to and from school with his friends on scorching sand; he ran from the invaders who claimed his parent’s lives during the Partition; he ran from older brats during his refugee camp days; he ran from police officers in his youth after committing petty crimes; and he ran the cross country for just one thing—dhudh (milk)! Screenwriter Prasoon Joshi says a straightforward and simple story propped up with some quintessential Bollywood elements, which in part can be blamed for the length of the film. Mehra puts the talented star cast to good use, starting from Japtej Singh, who plays young Milkha, Art Malik (who plays Milkha’s father), Divya Dutta (who plays his sister), Dalip Tahil (who appears as Pandit Nehru), Pawan Malhotra and, of course, Prakash Raj as the strict commanding officer. Although she appears in a short role as Milkha’s first love Biro, Sonam Kapoor distracts with her bright pink blush and lip gloss. She is hardly convincing as a 1950’s Punjabi girl who lives in a refugee camp. Australian actor Rebecca Breeds puts up an impressive show as Stella, the girl whom Milkha falls for during the Melbourne Olympics. But Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi appears in an unnecessary role, one whose absence wouldn’t have made a difference to the film any which way. There are too many songs in the film and Mehra who is not one to make his characters lip-sync tries to do so and fails terribly. Also, the background music that is played and replayed a hundred times over during the shots of Milkha’s childhood is too loud and melodramatic. But all this apart, the reason why you should not miss this film is, without doubt, the man who plays Milkha Singh, Farhan Akhtar. There is not even a trace of the urban metrosexual Mumbai boy that he is in the film (Ok! Except maybe the clean-shaven chest a la Sudish Kamat); all you see is Milkha Singh. After a very long time has any actor put in such a dedicated effort to get under the skin of a character and bring him alive in every shot and every scene. His brilliant performance overshadows every other aspect of the film and he sets a totally new benchmark of acting for other Bollywood stars to match up to. Although the first half drags a bit, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag does give you reasons to stay on till the end—the main reason being the man who became Milkha Singh!
Film: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Pawan Malhotra, Prakash Raj, Divya Dutta, Art Malik, Sonam Kapoor, Dalip Tahil