Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run Milkha Run) 2013. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is the true story of an Indian athlete who became a national hero and captured the popular imagination as an inspirational example of transforming tragedy into triumph. Born in Pakistan before partition he lost most of his siblings and at the age of twelve saw his parents slaughtered as he stood frozen with horror. The last words from his father before he escaped were “Run, Milkha. Run”.
He managed to find his way to Delhi and was re-united with his married sister with whom he lived as a traumatised and volatile teenager. He developed into a tough, charming renegade who flaunted authority and often got into trouble with the law. It was only when he fell in love with a local girl from a traditional family that he realized he was not suitable and resolved to become a different sort of person - to be worthy of her. So he enlisted in the Indian Army and it was there that he learned discipline and was introduced to competitive sport - initially as a way to get out of tough or boring details. But then he discovered he had a talent for running which the army vigorously nurtured. It was the army which was one of the fertile training grounds for India’s competitive athletes and who put him forward into competitions. And as he began to win races his ambition and drive escalated.
As an elite competitive athlete he was hugely disadvantaged. He was used to running barefoot. Running shoes were an obstacle for him initially. When he went to Australia to compete - he fell under the spell of the coach’s daughter who was totally smitten with him and whose sexual laxity was completely revelatory and temporarily derailed his training in a dramatic setback. But each obstacle seemed to renew his determination and he trained arduously to make up for them. There are maybe a few too many scenes of his gruelling workouts as we watch the development of his body into a veritable engine of sinew and muscle. (“Rocky”)
Although he loses his Olympic chance to win a medal, he is still the highest ranking runner in India and is asked by none other than Nehru to compete in Pakistan in an effort to forge some bonds between India and Pakistan. It takes a lot of persuasion to convince him to go back to a place which represents so much pain for him. But it allows him to face it and in the process he finds some of his old friends from the past and begin to heal. He then proceeds to beat the Pakistani favorite runner in such a sensational race that he is given the nickname “The Flying Sikh”
There are some hilarious musical numbers which take place in army barracks and locker rooms with only men. (“Full Monty”) Farhan Akhtar, who plays MIlkha is riveting and totally compelling. The cinematography is gorgeous. And the three hours go by very quickly. The film is doing extremely well in the US and in India they have given it tax free status as it is felt to be so aspirational. I thoroughly agree. It was terrific on all levels. You don’t have to be an Indiaphile to appreciate it.
Review by Belle McIntyre