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Movies Review: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag


Jun 1, 2004
History is created in several ways. One of them is cinema. And if Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" seems like a near-flawless homage to the flying spirit of India's greatest runner, it is partly because the story, so nimbly woven into a pastiche of drama, emotion, humor and pathos by Prasoon Joshi, is in no hurry to keep pace with the onscreen Milkha's breathless sprint.

The story of super-sprinter Milkha Singh unfolds in this exceptional biopic at its own volition. There's no effort here "to tell a story", to create an impression or to whip up a dramatic storm to captivate audiences. The synergy in the storytelling seems subliminal.

Still, we the audience, fed week after week on mediocrity masquerading as cinema, are riveted to the story of Milkha Singh for over three hours of playing time.

How come? Well, to begin with it is Milkha Singh's own powerful life as India's superstar sportsperson that sweeps us into the biopic. Milkha was so poor he couldn't afford running shoes, and when he got them, he didn't know how to run in them. When milk was offered in the army in exchange of running practice, he grabbed it (the run and the milk) with both hands.

A victim of India's brutal partition, Milkha's story was waiting to be told. And thankfully, no one before Mehra saw cinematic potential in his story. If Milkha's story had to be told, the storyteller had to be a master craftsman, and one who doesn't waste space in self-congratulatory flourishes.

With immense help from Prasoon Joshi, Mehra harnesses Milkha's life-story into an experience that is pure cinema and yet undiluted and uncompromised by the mandatory, often silly, illogical and idiotic semantics of mainstream commercial cinema.

The absolutely seamless editing by P. Bharathi is impressive. The film is very stylishly cut, but not at the cost of losing the simplicity and the innate ascetism of the sportsman-hero. And yes, there are songs composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, but they are so effortlessly woven into Milkha's saga that we don't see them as "song breaks".

This is as good a time as any to tell you that Farhan Akhtar does the Bhangra as well as any Punjabi. Actually, he doesn't dance. He just flows with the rhythm. I've never seen any actor dance with such rhapsodic abundance. Neither have I seen any actor run like Farhan.

I don't know how fast Milka ran, but Farhan's Milkha doesn't fake it for even a second. When he runs, he really runs. When he stumbles and takes a fall, we flinch and wince in our seats. Farhan's body language and emotions and expression as Milkha is pitch-perfect.

Farhan doesn't 'play' Milkha. The actor occupies Milkha's mind, body and soul. There are episodes in this astonishingly, well-structured biopic where Farhan's oneness with Milkha equals Ben Kingsley's empathy with Mahatma Gandhi in "Gandhi".

This isn't just a film about a sportsperson who brought untold glory to our country. "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" is the story of an individual's journey from nullity to pinnacles of success in a world where politics and violence are constant reminders of how little an individual's aspirations matter in the larger, often murkier scheme.

In Prasoon Joshi's interpretation of Milkha's amazing success-story, yearning is the cornerstone to achievement. In 1947, when India became two nations, we see little Milkha (Jabtej Singh) run for his life to escape the savage butchery that snatches away almost his entire family. Only his dear sister, played wonderfully by Divya Dutta, remains. As we see it, Milkha never stopped running since the partition trauma.

The 'run' as a metaphor of life's expedient circumstances, runs through the narrative.

Happily, the screen time is as much taken up with Milkha's record-breaking achievements on the field, as it is with vignettes from his personal life. There is a robust heartwarming romance between Milkha and the vessel-friendly 'kudi' Biro (Sonam Kapoor, looking prettier than ever). The writer and director invest inexpressible warmth in the protagonist's courtship scenes. We've seen this kind of love blossom on Punjab's soil before. But it still feels special and unique.

Farhan does the rest. And he gets tremendous support from other actors, specially Divya Dutta, who is incomparably sincere in her role. Pavan Malhotra as Milkha's coach is as usual, first-rate.

Unlike other period films in recent times which have conveniently and lazily resorted to antiques, artefacts and vintage songs, the 1950s in "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" simply and effortlessly emerges from the character and his milieu.

Binod Pradhan's camera glides across Milkha's inner and outer world, and telling it like it is. There's a complex design to the seeming simplicity of this saga of a simple Sikh who would guzzle two cans of ghee on challenge and run to the winning post on feet mauled by jealous rivals.

Who said life could ever be easy for those who aspire to fly higher than the rest? The beautiful irony of Milkha Singh's life that this consummate biopic captures so ably, is that he really didn't aspire to anything. He ran simply because he had to.

The rest, as they say, is history.

"Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" is the kind of cinema that doesn't tempt us to share the protagonist's life with any false hopes. We the audience are driven into a desperate urge to share Milkha's life not only because he ran fast, but because he wasn't afraid to stumble, falter and fall.

Ironically, this film on Milkha rarely slips up, if ever.

At one point, in an under-punctuated flashback, we hear Milkha confide in his sweetheart that he would like the government to declare a national holiday in his honor.

I recommend a national holiday for the entire nation to go and see this movie. It makes the other recent high-profile acclaimed films look hopelessly inadequate.


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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Have any of our members yet seen this film? The review is exciting, and your reactions would certainly make the film significant for those reading the thread. Let us know and post your thoughts.


Jun 1, 2004
A must-watch movie... I watched it yesterday and boy! i was spellbound from the first scene till the end... even now i am...

Milkha filled buckets with his sweat and i literally filled one with tears of joy and over-flow of emotions at almost every scene... three hours seemed to move in a blink of an eye... i have never seen a movie so full-filling. 5 out of 5 from me! I will not spill the beans further as this masterpiece simply needs to be watched on a big screen and be awed at by the beautiful depiction and effort by each and every actor...





Mar 13, 2013
Inspirational movie telling Hard Work never goes vain.
Earlier if someone wanted to see sports inspirational movie he had to look for that in hollywood.
But bringing the story of milkha singh in bollywood is really commendable and appreciable and the way all the actors have depicted the story by their talent is really great.
Loved the work of the coaches in the movie,how they make Milkha singh value the discipline and hard work in life.
There is a time when he starts running the first time and just as he is about to surprise anyone but suddenly a pebble hurts his feet and he falls off from the race course.I loved how his coach then tells him how so many more pebbles will come more in the races of the life ahead and he has to bear those pebbles and WIN and milkha singh willingly being obedient works more hard.
And the last scene in which he had to go pakistan and run.How he feared and faced his fears and overcame them with winning the race was really great one.

A must watch in my view.
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