The ApunKaChoice movie review of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s over indulgence in his craft and writer Prasoon Joshi’s meandering screenplay get the better of Farhan Akhtar’s laudable performance to ruin a film that could have been, should have been, a real stab of inspiration. As it is, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is just a watchable biopic bogged down by too many Bollywood compulsions.
The writer-director duo is seemingly so overwhelmed -- rather encumbered -- by the research material on the Indian athlete Milkha Singh that they trade economy for excess and decide to milk each and every snippet, along with cinematic liberties taken, into a heavily crammed film that runs a painfully overlong course of 3 hours and 10 minutes, long enough to give you a bad bum day.
Sure there are positives too. For one, Sonam Kapoor’s role as a Punjabi girl a young Milkha Singh falls for is kept short. And there are some well executed sequences from Milkha Singh’s childhood and growing-up years, including his bonhomie with his elder sister (a creditable Divya Dutta), his mentoring as a runner under a senior (an impressive Pawan Malhotra) in the army, his gobbling down canisters of ghee to gall a policeman -- that bear the strokes of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra as a filmmaker to reckon with. It’s when Mehra panders to clichés and adopts a Bollywood template of loud background score and tear-jerking melodrama that Bhaag Milkha Bhaag hits a bump. And that happens quite often.
The film, as you already know by now, narrates the tale of Milkha Singh, the Indian sprinter whose extraordinary life, whose unyielding struggle, and whose eventual triumph (though not at the Olympics) has been a source of endless inspiration for India’s sportspersons. It’s the story of a kid who escaped the death throes of India’s partition and lived with painful memories of his parents’ death, finding a closure, if at all, too late in the day. It’s also the story of his tryst with petty crimes, his flirtations with a Punjabi girl, and a fling with an Australian hottie (Rebecca Breeds).
The titular protagonist, in the hands of a lesser actor, would have fallen flat on his face. But kudos to Farhan Akhtar, who not just strains every muscle and sinew to get the physicality of his character right, but also lends it a kaleidoscope of emotions -- grit, anger, humiliation, determination, pain, sadness, cheekiness -- that you can’t but laud the act. Do note his humiliation after losing at the Rome Olympics in 1960.
Another creditable but brief performance comes from Art Singh as Milkha’s father. Yograj Singh as Milkha Singh’s coach is passable.
Cinematography by Binod Pradhan is up to the mark, and music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy gels well with the theme. If only it was used sparingly and with some respect to our eardrums.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag isn’t a bad film. It’s just done in by too much aesthetic embellishments and usual Bollywood tropes. At a shorter length, and toned down jingoism and triumphalism, it might have been a riot worth running, rooting for.