Growing up, I had heard about Milkha Singh from my father—there’s a great level of pride in being able to say that someone from your homeland or minority religious community was able to achieve a legendary status. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a story inspired by the life of “The Flying Sikh,” Milkha Singh who was orphaned and forced to flee Pakistan in the partition of 1947. Singh went from being a vagrant of sorts to a recruit in the Indian army to an Olympian and that is the journey the movie follows.
The movie opens with the 1960 Rome Olympics scene, where Milkha Singh narrowly missed the bronze medal. From there on, the movie is a collection of vignettes from Singh’s past. It is literally a train ride through Milkha Singh’s memories. What amazed me most from the very beginning is the fact that the actor playing Milkha Singh, Farhan Akhtar, actually has a strong physical resemblance to the real person. Farhan Akhtar plays Milkha Singh flawlessly, carrying the whole movie on his strong shoulders. Seeing Singh pull himself out of ditches dug by fate, other individuals in his life, and sometimes himself provides for a very powerful, engaging, and richly human story. We see Milkha Singh running without stopping because that is what his life was. He had to run from Pakistan, then from hunger, from shame, from a dark life. Milkha Singh’s running away slowly transforms into a run towards dignified heights.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a great movie, I loved the cinematography and the music is better than I expected after seeing the trailer. Scenes showing Singh meeting his older sister (played by Divya Dutta), running despite being injured, losing his love-interest Biro (played by Sonam Kapoor), and trailing behind in races due to his own mistakes trigger strong emotions in the viewer. Despite the greatness of the film overall, I can’t help but feel that some scenes needed to be illustrated in an artfully discrete manner. There were parts that I’m sure would make the family audience uncomfortable—I believe strongly in art and know that there are many ways to tell the same story to different audiences. I just wish the directors and story writers had kept in mind that this movie can be very inspiring to the younger generations and a certain degree of censorship is needed. I want to say that the decision makers for this movie took the easy way out through some of the choices they made.
If you have a short attention span or can’t sit comfortably for too long, be advised that the movie is very, very, very long—3 hours, 9 minutes long. I would have liked to see supporting characters a little bit more, many of them had a great deal of potential that was never capitalized on; especially the female actresses Divya Dutta and Sonam Kapoor who seem to disappear into nothingness as the movie progresses. Young Milkha, Japtej Singh’s performance ran parallel to that of Farhan Akhtar’s; Japtej Singh portrayed an innocent village boy and emotionally wounded child with heart-winning precision. Despite the flaws I’ve ranted about, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a moving story overall. I say, go watch it!
Navdeep Kaur is a Sikh American writer currently obtaining her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from San Jose State University. More of her work can be viewed at http://aarsi-reflections.blogspot.com/ or connect with her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/authorkaur.