Cinema that can elevate your spirit while depicting the tragic loss of youth and innocence in the midst of abject deprivation, is rare exception and eminently welcome.
Ergo, a standing ovation for debutant director Soumendra Padhi’s bluntly brilliant biopic, even if it may not brag of the brio that dazzles us in Dishoom or the swag that makes Salman the ‘sultan’ of the box office. But by god, Budhia Singh - Born To Run spreads a sunshine in the viewer’s heart. Its notably pronounced mood of transparency lends to the narrative a sense of unadorned directness. And yet this film is not a dry documentary on an exceptional child from Odisha who ran (and he ran, and ran…) because... Well, there were roads to cover and miles to travel.
Alas, his promising career as India’s youngest marathon runner was cut short by politics and destiny. Padhi has designed his exceptional and precious film as a homage to the spirit of survival in the most deplorable of conditions. The film is clearly and unmistakably born out of a conscience that cares, and cares deeply. The bond that grows between the little runner and his aggressively committed coach Biranchi Das (Manoj Bajpayee, exceptional) is in many ways representative of the unassuming unconditional affinity that the director shares with his characters.
These are people, not prototypes expressing real emotions, not manufactured and tweaked versions of the real stuff. For all its propensity to project little Budhia’s story as authentically as cinema permits, director Soumendra Padhi’s film merits an attentive respectful viewing. There is no attempt here to romanticise poverty or take ghoulish delight in it. Bajpayee holds the plot together, as only he can. He gets some solid support from known and unknown actors. Shruti Marathe as Bajpayee’s wife is lovely.
But the habitually skilled Tillotama Shome strikes some discordant notes as Budhia’s self-serving mother. Also, the politicians are shown to be caricatures of the clan. Which is perhaps, part of the plan.
Budhia Singh... doesn’t serenade squalor. Nor does it accentuate the little boy’s prodigious aptitudes in coutours of cuteness. Casting little Mayur Patole as Budhia is a master-stroke.