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Dec 07th 2023
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Home Reviews Cinema & Theatre Bhag Milkha Bhag

Bhag Milkha Bhag

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Poster Bhaag Milkha BhaagA movie too long and too unfocused to leave a lasting impression.


A film about an Indian sporting legend should start from a stadium, and so it does.

This movie opens with the defining Rome Olympic moment of Milkha Singh's career – the heartbreak of the race that assured him immortality. Milkha is representing India in 400 meters race. He is just about to finish the race, leading, and India is close to getting its first ever gold in Olympics. Suddenly Milkha's mind goes back to the harrowing memories of partition and he turns his head back to see the present. That fraction of a moment pulls him back and he finishes fourth. In the process he breaks a million hearts and compromises his own pride.

The movie mimics this scene. In trying to create a great biopic, the makers just about miss it; look back too often and loose the essence.

The much anticipated Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is anything but the film that Milkha Singh deserves.

Story: The story starts with the scene mentioned above. Then it uses many reels on Jawaharlal Nehru (Dilip Tahil) and his team asking an unwilling Milkha to participate in a friendly heat in Pakistan. Why Milkha says no is a mystery to Nehru, and even to Singh's coaches. The one person who knows reason is Milkha's first coach Guruji (Pavan Malhotra).

Poor Guruji is handed the unpleasant task of narrating a long story, on a train journey to Chandigarh, which could have been told in a few sentences. The explanation for Milkha's decision, painfully obvious to anyone with even half a brain, is awkwardly used as a suspenseful cliffhanger in the film.

In the narration, there is Milkha's fleeting romance (which has nothing to do with the original query) and other deviations before the film reaches its extended finishing line. Milha's journey is covered in three chapters. His childhood, witnessing the partition, loosing family and following path of illegitimate citizen. Second, a young Milkha trying to set himself in the army, getting in sports for extended diet and relaxation from fatigue. And third, making of an athlete, the nation is still proud of. This includes a family melodrama, three women coming in his life, some army moments with pathetic jokes, and three coaches who talk in the same pitch.

There are many new facts about Milkha revealed in the movie. Apart from his love life, I never knew his partition background, his achievements and most importantly, who gave him the name of 'flying sikh'. It's another matter that you are overwhelmed with surplus things.
The director himself has been a sportsman (represented India in swimming, Delhi Asian Games of 1982). Perhaps by the time he made this movie he forgot most about the life of a regular sports person.

Performances: Farhan Akhtar is the only or at least the best thing in the film. It's a great sight watching him run.

Farhan, as the young man who is an exceptional runner, is totally believable. With a wide smile that shows all his teeth, Farhan comes across as a charming Singh. I'm still wondering who else could have played the character this well.  Watch him closely in scenes where he hit himself in the bathroom, or visits his ancestral home in Pakistan, he will prove as an actor with great intensity.

There's also Sonam Kapoor with her 'carefully-styled' messy hair in a role that lasts a few minutes. She's no gaon ki Punjaban, but with such short screen time, there's little damage one can do.

Among other actors (The list is quit long), Divya Dutta impresses with her high emotional display. There are three coaches of Milkha singh. Pawan Malhotra and Prakash Raj fails to impress this time. Their blank faces show that military persons are just known for shouting. Though Yograj Singh (father of cricketer Yuvraj singh) impresses. The other two actresses are Australian Rebecca Beed and Pakistani singer cum actress Meesha Shafi. It was difficult to understand, what Meesha is doing in the film. Dilip Tahil's uninspired, laughable casting as Pandit Nehru truly mystifies me.

Direction: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has done it again. Yes, the length of the movie is one of the 'not working' points of the movie. He has done it in AKS, Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6 too. It's a filmmaker's call as to what extent he will combine the actual with fiction and negotiate with style over substance. Sadly, in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mehra goes overboard in his bid to look epic. He focuses more on Farhan's remarkable physicality as he trains against Ladakh's magnificent landscapes, swims in Australia's blue ocean with his local coach's grand-daughter in vintage swimwear or has frequent visions of the dreadful hours he witnessed the bloodbath of his family. Though that appear like a tricky VFX mash-up of the dark, sepia-toned skies of Zack Snyder's movie 300.

Mehra has tried to put everything Milkha might have faced and much more, in a 13 year period which extends from about 1947 to 1960. Moreover, this indecision to project the film as a flashback-within-flashback drama has done enough to ruin a potentially promising premise.

He also missed on squeezing more dramatic value from prospective scenes. The Partition is better shown in the likes of 'Train to Pakistan', or the sole interest of food for entering sports is exhibited better in 'Pan Singh Tomar'. The fight of a young man to come out from the world of crime could have brought more positive emotions. The songs seems to disturb the flow of the narrative. You will find a song, when it should not be there.
In a scene, Mehra appears as the Captain of a plane, soothing a nervous Milkha from his first ever flight's fear. This typical PJ ends with Mehra taking responsibility of the plane, saying I am the captain and I take full responsibility. You have done so Mr Mehra and and to some extent, audience sit tight while watching, as if afraid of the movie loosing steam every now and then.

Writing and others: The man to be blamed for such complexed screenplay is Prasoon Joshi. For the first time this Ad master has tried hands on a screenplay (he wrote dialogues for Rang De Basanti), and forgot the basic rule of advertising - 'saying more in less'. The 3 hours and 7 minutes offering might have been more interesting if it was 30 minutes short.

Cinematography by Binod Pradhan is outstanding and abounds in striking visual compositions. Binod has captured the stadiums and mountains with equal expertise, giving a treat to eyes. However, the sepia effect of flashbacks does not come across as a great idea.
Editing by P. Bharti is satisfying. It has done its bit in balancing the three layers of flashbacks.

Music: Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, have done a nourishing job. The music, specially the track Zinda, is well suited to the moods. Other tracks are good to listen too.

The film is creating a buzz among not just audiences but brands too. With 15 brands on board as partners, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures has managed to create all the right noises, targeting all categories of audiences.

It is a pity that Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, tracing the life of one of India's greatest sporting heroes, never makes for the kind of captivating cinema that it should have been.  It relies solely on drama in the hero's struggle against all odds, instead of overlaying it with peripheral narratives.

Farhan Akhtar's zeal is let down by Mehra's diverted story-telling. It's too long and too unfocused to leave a lasting impression.

To describe it in athletics terms, the movie is a 400 meters sprint that feels like a cross-country race. For me a one-time watch. Go for it only if you trust your patience threshold.


(Rating: ***1/2)


---Sharad Vatss is a movie buff who works for Pepsi.


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