Direction: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Actors: Farhan Akhtar, Pavan Malhotra, Divya Dutta, Sonam Kapoor
For a film about sprinting and clocking shortest timings possible, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag moves at a snail’s pace and goes on for over 3 hours. And while the protagonist purportedly possesses tremendous focus, the film seems to lack that very quality. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s ‘biopic’ (the word has been reiterated by the makers at every interview opportunity) on Indian sprinter Milkha Singh is, at best, a meandering, indulgent version of a real story. And though it touches upon uncomfortable incidents, it painstakingly seeks to justify and glorify its hero with melodrama, dramatic camerawork and slow-motion shots of rippling muscles.
The film begins from the point in Singh’s career that’s best known in public memory — his defeat at the 1960 Rome Olympics. It was a race he led for the most part and yet finished fourth in. In the film, Singh (Farhan Akhtar) turns back mid-race and sees a fragment of a disturbing memory, in slow-mo, of course. Who knows what actually happened… But Mehra seems willing to endorse Singh’s viewpoint from the outset.
An exercise in the defence of Singh unfolds in two-stage flashbacks — his days in the army and lengthy training period; and glimpses of childhood in Pakistan in, surprise, surprise, sepia-tinted shots, where the CGI clouds and blood-spill could do Zack Snyder proud.
However, clichés notwithstanding, Farhan’s performance is sincere and, at times, beautifully nuanced. His (much-flaunted) physique is only the most obvious manifestation of his prep. His accent is spot on. And he’s delightful as the naïve jawan — who apes other sprinters’ routines and daydreams foolishly before a mirror. As he runs a cross-country race while clutching a side stitch — his incentive is just the promise of eggs and a glass of milk — he manages to be endearing and funny.
However, such moments are rare in a screenplay that trundles along, overburdened by needless song-and-dance, distractingly detailed episodes and a bevy of flat supporting characters. While Pavan Malhotra, as Singh’s coach, is the only other actor worth mentioning, Divya Dutta is wasted as the melodramatic sister. Sonam Kapoor as a teenage love interest is little more than a cameo, while Dalip Tahil’s Nehru is so poorly sketched, it becomes caricature-ish.Predictably enough, Singh is vindicated in the end, and with it, the tiresome story tumbles over the finish line and comes to a halt.