Bhag Milkha Bhag is a biopic of a man who was the first athletic sporting hero of a newly independent India and I would say about 30 years late in the making. He gave up running in the mid 60s, Tokyo Marathon of 1964 being probably his last major championship.
Bio pics were never popular in mainstream Indian cinema popularly called as Bollywood except as documentaries by the Indian government channels. There have been bio-pics of popular political leaders like Gandhi, Ambedkar, Shahis Bhagat singh but it is the first time that a bio pic of a popular sportsperson has been attempted and to that extent credit should be given to the producers for venturing from the tried and tested formula of movie making in Bollywood. It is only recently that few bio pics are being made which is closely resembling the lives of the protagonists otherwise they make movies “loosely based on somebody’s life”. “Shootout at Wadala” was made on the life of one time dreaded gangster Manya Surve. Either ways, the directors take extreme liberty with the true content of the person’s lives introducing elements that are never there in their real life.
Bhag Milkha Bhag is therefore the story of Milkha Singh’s life. It is also a sad story of Bollywood’s obsession with sex, skin show, six packs and songs. Even if the four S were removed yet the story would have been beautiful enough for people to connect to the person’s life who is venerated as a God in sporting circles in India. Of course in India any yadav, kumar and shinde who knows how to hold a bat or bowl a long hop is also venerated in a mad cricket crazy country.
So the story is about his uprooting from his village in Pakistan, butchering of his parents, brother and sister in front of his own eyes and his traumatic train travel to India as an orphan where he has only his siblings to take care of him at a tender young age of 10. His early life in the village involved trekking to a school 10 kms away by going through sand dunes which must have been the major contributing factor to his athletic prowess in latter life. Had it not been for the army, India would have lost a sporting hero to theft, vagabondness and whatnot.
The narrative of the movie does not follow a linear format like in Chak de India and therefore it juxtaposes from one situation to another. Army was where he first came into contact with running and the recognition from winning at running gave him the impetus to furiously pursue his pursuits.
They allowed a few inaccuracies to creep up such as his breaking the world record in 400 metres which as per this Wikipaedia entry here i.e. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men’s_400_metres_world_record_progression does not show any such record in his name. In the movie they have depicted that he lost the 1960 Rome medal due to his angst and anguish at the loss of his parents and siblings in Pakistan but that was already erased in the Indo-Pak friendship series which took place in the mid 50s where he decimated the Pakistani athletes and extracted succour for that loss. But they probably did not have much content to play around with and therefore they made adept use of the element of a Indo-Pak rivalry to prod the movie along.
Bollywood’s obsession with six pack abs is almost delusional. Probably the movie makers think that anybody who has a body with huge muscles is a champion in every sport forgetting that every sport does not require huge bulging muscles. Why should an athlete have a sick pack abs with huge bulging muscles – They should have done their homework properly.
This youtube video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZ3EShJzOOc shows that Milkha started off fast but started fading in the later stages of the 400 metres final in Rome Olympics – a case of tactical, strategic error rather than angst at his loss in Pakistan. The same tactical strategic errors continue to be committed by later Indian athletes such as Sriram Singh who had a devastating first lap in the 800 metres final of the 1976 Montreal Olympics only to fade to finish 7th in the race which was won by Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena in a then world record time. Juantorena later acknowledged that he was able to break the world record only to the initial burst of speed by Sriram Singh.
With all these inaccuracies and the formula system of Bollywood, the movie is well made with decent performances by all the actors including some bravura performance by Divya Dutta and Pawan Malhotra as the sister and coach respectively of Milkha. Sonam Kapoor as the love interest of Milkha has done a delightful cameo role. An absolutely must watch by all the youngsters of India, all athletes irrespective of whether they are runners, shooters, wresters, boxers. Too many songs perhaps elongated the movie to little more than 3 hours. Farhan Akhtar in his six pack has done a decent role as Milkha Singh. There are several moments of pure adrenaline in the movie.