Movie Review: BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG (2013)
I’m a sucker for sports movies. Any story featuring an underdog with a tumultuous past which he overcomes to conquer all odds and excel in his chosen sport, just appeals to me, and more often than not, blinds me to any flaws in execution or storytelling. Added bonus if it`s a true story. Bollywood rarely features such sports related Bio-pics, however, that just means there’s a whole another genre for them to explore after BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG. Here is my Movie Review…
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra single handedly pulled the Indian Film Industry out of a years-long financial slump with his critical and commercial masterpiece, RANG DE BASANTI in 2006. His follow up to that left a lot to be desired with holes in storytelling, a silly metaphor and ridiculous symbolism for the main conflict of the story in DELHI 6. His most recent film, BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG falls somewhere in between the two and ends up being an engaging, interesting and heart warming piece of cinema.
A true story about the life of an Indian gold Medalist Olympic Sprinter, BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG features Farhan Akthar as Milkha Singh. Milkha is Sikh man, exiled from his home when it became Pakistan in the Partition, who represents the national Indian team. Right away you can see the religious and cultural conflict that can arise from this. A quick background: The partition of 1947 of India into two counties specific to religion, divided thousands if not millions of people, leaving them homeless, and victims to heinous crimes committed by both sides due to Religious hatred and propaganda. Pakistan was created as being a Muslim majority country, while India was intended to be a majority Hindu / Sikh nation. One of the few that were affected by all this, were Sikhs, who mostly resided in the state of Punjab, which got split right down the middle, one half landing in each country. Much blood was spilled as people of both religions were, in some cases, literally dragged out of their homes, murdered and compelled to leave for their `intended`countries. Milkha Singh`s family were among those victims.
The story begins with Milkha Singh as an established Olympic athlete of India, having won many accolades, to the point of being chosen to compete in Pakistan, as part of a political gesture to sooth relations between the two nations. His refusal to participate and go to Pakistan for the games, prompts a representative of the Sports Committee to visit him to try to convince him otherwise. The story of Milkha Singh is then narrated to this representative through flashbacks, by two of his coaches who were there for the rise of ‘The Flying Sikh’.
The first act of BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG starts off very bumpy. It’s a little heavy handed in it’s abstract and emotionally out of context scenes. The scenes of the boy growing into a man, falling in love, don’t have much impact. They seem shoddy and irrelevant, and not nearly as emotionally impactful as the rest of the story ends up being later on. After being motivated by the woman he loves to do something with his life, Milkha joins the Army, where others discover his talent for running. That’s the extent of Sonam Kapoor‘s role in the film. She’s reduced to being a plot point, which is fine, but they could have easily cast a fresh new face for such a miniscule role, instead of a known actress in order to squeeze out mileage from the films marketing campaign.
What’s unique is about this story, unlike other sports-centric films, is that the character isn’t shown as having a God given talent, or being physically gifted in the sport. The initial ways in which he even gets noticed to be part of the team, happens due to purely grit and determination and an almost defiant need to prove people wrong. Once selected, Milkha Singh has to legitimately work hard, struggle and bleed his way to his success, sacrificing sleep, relationships and any concern for the physical toll to himself. It’s a worthy message for South Asian audiences, as more often than not characters are featured as being ‘special’ or even ‘super’, whereas Milkha’s story can impact a wider audience as he was just an ordinary person who worked hard for his achievements.
The sports aspect of the movie is just a running (pun intended) metaphor for Milkha’s traumatic past. The set up is brilliant, and the emotionality that Farhan Akthar conveys through the character is gripping. The reveal near the third act is completely unexpected, and graphically shocking. For a movie which seems to have been a general sports movie, there is a lot more depth. Farhan Akthar has always worn many hats, but this role as an actor is probably his most raw and uninhibited. His performance makes the story come alive, given that majority of the suspense regarding his past comes all from Milkha’s reactions and expressions.
BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG is by no means a perfect or polished film. There are many issues, most of which prevent the movie from being as genius as the Director’s previous work, but it has all the makings of it. The writing is brilliant, as it’s able to weave the flashback, narrative, emotional symbolism and metaphors of Milkha’s life and past into perfect balance without ever taking the audience out of the moment. This is further enhanced by the crisp editing and cinematography. As much as the flashback sequences are embellished, the present day scenes are kept somber and humble, to reflect the character’s own attitudes. It’s a technically well executed film, and even the sprinting elements are kept interesting and engaging with very creative camera work.
BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG is by no means a formulaic sports movie, as the sport elements serves as a backdrop to the more internal conflict within the main character. Farhan Akthar gives the performance of a life time in a movie, the success of which, hopefully gives Bollywood an entirely new genre to delve into.