So my review of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag showed up last week here and recently, one of my friends from my alma mater, The Ohio State University, also saw the film and wrote to me expressing his thoughts in detail about the film which I am posting here. Before you delve in, there is one thing you need to know or be reminded of. In the film, they mention Jesse Owens, a famous athlete, in the Australia sequence. Over to my friend!
The story is just great and the actors chosen to play every single role make a perfect fit like a bespoke suit. It portrays the rise of the legend Milkha Singh from the ‘nehars’ of Kot Addu through the painful partition years and finally as a rising athelete who goes on to become an indian legend. The script isn’t exactly a straight path, more of a flashback-ke-andar flashback-zoom out-flashback approach! It is shot at some very eye pleasing locales of various ‘pinds’ in Punjab, majestic mountains of Ladakh region and arguably eye pleasing bluewaters passed off as Australia. The camera work is fantastic especially the part where the camera follows the sprinting Milkha.
The main lead- Farhan does a miraculous job of becoming the protagonist Milkha Singh, both in body and spirit. Rarely do actors work so hard to get into the skin of the character as much as we have seen Farhan undergo during his well documented transformation. Hats off to his hard work and training. Yes the women folks can surely ogle at his 6-8 packs, more than just once, during the 2.5hr movie! My only take is that his voice could have been trained better. Some parts of his dialogue delivery remind me of his uttering the dialogues from ZNMD. The dude runs like a star athlete. His best scene is when Milkha returns to his village and breaks down seeing his old house. Farhan has just raised the bar of his best performance to date.
Seated comfortably in a foreign theatre, one does surely miss out on the usual chattar-pattar, cell-phone jabbering, pop-corn munching annoyance which is accepted back in motherland. During the shots of partition years and refugee camps, I heard mellow sobs coming from few seats away. They were coming from a well dressed suited-booted uncleji, who most likely was reliving the trauma that young Milkha went through during the partition. It was a very touching moment to silently witness the impact of cinema. Perhaps the NRI uncleji can only elaborate on the state of his mind. The partition scene with Young Milkha (Japtej Singh from Mohali) and Divya Dutta are sure to make your eyes moist. The scenes between the brother and the sister exude the word 'emotion'.
Milkha's army days are very well shot, and a large part of the credit goes to the brilliance of actor Pawan Malhotra, cast as Mikha Singh’s coach. One of the promos of the movie show Farhan being slapped by Malhotra and saying “ India da coat kamana padta hain, mehnat karni padti hain”. Some brilliant acting by Malhotra in here. There were scenes and characters who could have been gotten away with, but I guess you need time to absorb the entire impact of whats going on. The detailing especially Air India’s onboard conversation between Milkha and the national coach Ranvir Singh, made it look like surreal 1950’s. The sloppy part comes in the guise of flashbacks. Enough ink has been spoilt on the 300/Jaane tu ya Jaane na (Ranjor-ke-rathor) flashback similarities. Honestly, the flashbacks could have been easier on the palate of the audience if it was one long continuous scene. I believe the editor chose to don the directors hat and got away with what looks like a bad spaghetti, and to his surprise, the director just uttered “darling, kya spaghetti hain!” The director, the actors, the cinematographer, the musicians everyone were superb in their efforts. I would either blame the writer or the editor with the marvelous wonder of turning a fantabulous story into a baigan da bharta. Not to compare but there are better flashback examples and their placements in Bollywood movies lately. Mehra’s previous offering RDB was much better off when it came to flashbacks. Mehra does an overall a fantastic job of re-creating the bygone era.
What you do take away in an awe-inspiring story of a humble boy, who never thought he could become a legend one day? Kids will talk about it, the old timers will reminisce the days of the All India Radio coverage of Milkha Singh and the young would simply continue to be zombified with the cult of T-20. The biggest takeaway from the movie was that it takes a lot to earn the respect while playing for a country, something which is being taken for granted these days. Thankfully the movie doesn’t make a mockery out of the coaches or managers, I am saying this at a time when cricket as a game has lost its charm, but the sheen seems to cover the muck underneath – tainted ‘national level’ players and club managers who have possibly never held a bat in their hands. Milkha Singh’s record will be broken and he would be happy to see an Indian kid do it. He would be happy to say ‘Ab tu bhaag Milkha’!
For lovers of history, Franklin D Roosevelt publicly never acknowledged the way Jesse Owens ought to be felicitated for bringing medals to USA. Thankfully we were able to do something magical with Milkha Singh when we had a chance. Go watch the movie to believe in the story of a living legend – Milkha Singh and find out what I mean.
The author has ‘vested’ interests in writing this review and shares his alma mater with Jesse Owens.
Jesse Owens, incidentally, was also a graduate of my university and we have the honor of having met him personally, once.