Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra‘s biopic of Milkha Singh is one of the few sports films to come out of the Indian film industry. It is also a perfect example of how not to make a sports biopic, and a telling comment on the compulsion of most filmmakers to “Bollywoodise” what starts off as an unusual subject and premise.
It seems Mehra and writer Prasoon Joshi started off with the noble intention of making a gritty film on India’s most successful athlete, but fell back to their Bollywood ways.
They added a bit of romance here, a song there, topped off with lots and lots of over-the-top melodrama, and convinced themselves that this was the heart-wrenching story of an athlete who fought against all odds to succeed at an international level.
Far from it.
Mehra and Joshi incorporated so many unnecessary details and incidents into the three-hour film that somewhere, the story gets lost and it is the trimmings which seem to get all the importance.
To dramatise any real-life story, you have to take cinematic liberties, but to have Milkha Singh dancing at an Australian pub with the granddaughter of one of his coaches is taking things a bit too far.
“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag“, which chronicles Singh’s rise and struggle to attain closure over the deaths of his parents during the country’s partition in 1947, is depicted by Mehra in a manipulative, almost tacky manner.
You have long, drawn-out shots of people dying, (which almost reminded me of Ram Gopal Varma’s “The Attacks of 26/11”), over-emotional scenes, and jingoistic dialogue that will cause unintentional hilarity.
Mehra also fails to consider the pace of the film – he is incredibly indulgent, using lingering shots of objects like pails of water and dupattas, and depicting too many scenes in Milkha’s life that the film could well have done without. One has the protagonist gulping down two whole cartons of ghee just to spite a policeman, while villagers cheer him on.
The romance between protagonist Farhan Akhtar and Sonam Kapoor, which lasts all of half-an-hour, is another example of the “Bollywoodisation” of this film. It does nothing for the film, except to lengthen its already considerable duration.
To tell a story of a champion athlete and his life is a great idea and we need to see more of these in the industry. What we do not need is for these ideas to get hacked and chopped to fit a certain formula.
The climax of the film is especially contrived and extremely narrow-minded. I will not say more for fear of revealing the plot, but Mehra in unable to bring his film to a crescendo and it ends on the same flat note it began on.
Farhan Akhtar was obviously aware that it was no easy task to carry off a three-hour film, and his effort shows – literally. His acting is laboured, forced and not natural at all. Akhtar looks like he landed straight from a sky-diving trip in Spain on to the film’s set. He cannot get rid of the image of a well-travelled, suave, urban dweller that he has played in several films and is at heart.
Sonam Kapoor has a small role and is in an out of the screen in 20 minutes, during which she plays a village belle with perfect make-up and manicured hands. The rest of the cast, including Pawan Malhotra, Prakash Raj and Dalip Tahil ham it up, in keeping with the tone of the film.
“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” could have been an inspiring, uplifting film about one man’s journey, but Mehra botches it up completely.
Sport has enough drama inherent in it. All he had to do was show that. Mehra chose to play games instead, and ruined it.