Grit and glory
All’s well in B-Town when a director decides to pick a story that needs to be told and the story is that of an athlete. The tougher business is perhaps to find the right person to play it, and this is where we must admit, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has struck gold. No one else could have played Milkha Singh better than Farhan Akhtar. No one.
When history meets 70 mm, it is no mean feat to be able to squeeze in a life story in a little more than three hours. Milkha Singh’s celluloid life starts with his loss in the 1960 Rome Olympics and runs back and forth between his childhood, youth and then some. Milkha runs and runs like his life depends on it - for it does. Right from his father’s last cry ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ till the last race in Pakistan that he wins with ease, Milkha just knows that he has to run. Even if it is just for milk and two eggs.
From surviving the partition, seeing his childhood getting reduced to a pile of dead bodies to braving out odds at the relief camp, finding his sister, falling in love - everything seems to fall into the linearity of a race track that needs to be conquered. Milkha is bull-headed and for excellent measure. Even for a split second when he falls off his mark, he slaps himself back to reality.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has its pitfalls - overtly dramatised at moments, the movie will seem a tad bit stretched and drawn out. But like every long race, the last few meters draw you in magically. You will cheer for Milkha, grimace when he stumbles and breathe a sigh of relief when he crosses the finish line first. More than the story, the character of Milkha is magic.
Farhan Akhtar does brilliantly in this movie. He becomes Milkha heart and soul, re-living every moment of the athlete’s life like his own. The way his eyes light up when he gets to know that athletes in the army get a special diet of milk and eggs or the way his face falls when the prime minister says that he has to go to Pakistan - Farhan brings history to life. His muscles ripple, his sweat flows and he bleeds - he makes it real. When Farhan runs - he REALLY runs.
Divya Dutta steals your heart as Milkha’s elder sister. She protects, she nurtures and she is that stoic figure in Milkha’s life - perhaps the only thing that doesn’t change. Pavan Malhotra and Yograj Singh are the best coaches that any athlete could ask for. While Malhotra plays the emotional end perfectly, Singh balances out the no-nonsense persona of hard-core trainers, together they push Milkha to his peak.
Thankfully Sonam Kapoor has no dialogues and she aces the looking pretty part as she should. But not for a moment can you take your eyes off Farhan and you would not want to. A special mention for the child actor who plays young Milkha. He is brilliant to say the least.
Millkha’s race seems to end when he breaks down crying in his old home, his demons have been dealt with and the Flying Sikh starts running again. As he runs, when Farhan cries, it almost seems that he is shedding tears half for Milkha Singh and half for himself.
It is pure pleasure to see a main-stream actor lose himself in character. We had almost relegated that capacity to the likes of Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Four stars for Farhan, we take one away for the movie getting a tad bit tedious in the second half.
Another winner in Bollywood, it would be stupidity to miss this.