Friday, July 12, 2013

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Review

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's last two films (Delhi 6 and Rang De Basanti) dealt with similar subtext about collision of western and Indian cultures and their influences on each other. This time, he shifts away from fiction where he played with unrealistic possibilities that could take place in his realistically cultured setting of our country. He unravels history of our country, this time, along with its sports culture back then that brought one talented athlete to fame- Milkha Singh, a national icon.

Mehra discovers this as a canvas for biopic rather than for a sports film. (Shimit Amin did the other way by making an inspiring sports film, Chak De! India, from the biography of Mir Ranjan Negi.) But how much the makers have taken "cinematic liberties" in depicting it and how much is the film true to Milkha Singh's life, we can't be sure as the film ends saying "Inspired from a true life".

Mehra's style of filmmaking is very much inevitable here, especially in his treatment of liberating moments. And that's quite important as it helps audience to relate with the characters... if Rang De Basanti's Aslam and Laxman dies to meet Ashfaq and Bismil in them, then Milkha runs to visualise his childhood on the same race track. And it's not only Mehra's Milkha who is seeing his full arc of life at that moment. We realise it too. And it couldn't have been done better without making us invested in the life of central character for more than 3 hours. That's what Steven Spielberg did with the biopic Schindler's List. 

Given the similar cinematic scale and ambitions, this film would have faltered if it would have been of any length shorter than this. Though with lesser substance on paper, the film overpowers on the whole even if no particular scene has potential to leave a mark, thanks to the consistently thrown in wonderfully shot visuals. Sadly, those visuals are emotionally overcharged here accompanied with depressing background score, as if the director wants us to cry. That works for our home audience, but I'm not sure if it will move international viewers equally.

Not sure why, screenwriters take convenience in writing biopics in a narrative flashback (Paan Singh Tomar, The Legend Of Bhagat Singh). Prasoon Joshi takes the same path. Almost the entire film, before entering into its climax, is as narrated by Milkha's coach Gurudev Singh (outstanding Pawan Malhotra) to a govt. official as reason of why Milkha is reluctant to participate in  Indo-Pakistan Dual Meet, where later he wins the title of 'Flying Sikh'. And this part of the story comes in writer's favour to stage the climax with our beloved India v/s Pakistan tussle where Pakistani player has to be arrogant and demeaning, and that would please us Indians, right? This flashback narrative is interspersed with childhood memories of Milkha, shifting the timelines and adding layers to the character... his equation with his elder sister Isri (ever dependable Divya Dutta), his dark past led by gory partition of the border, his heart-crush with Biro (Sonam Kapoor).

 Joshi, also the lyricist for the very effective soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, makes each song relatable to the  narrative... like when Major Veerapan (Prakash Raj with his character namesake moustache) calls their camp a "havan kund", the boys break into "Havan kund, Maston ka jhund"; when Milkha dances with Indian swimmer Perizaad (beautiful Meesha Shafi) in an elaborately detailed song sequence, it goes like "Tu jo dariya me utare, saara paani gulabi"; and "Sudarshan chakr banake gol" for Milkha's self made 400 metre round track on the sands of Ladakh.

Paan Singh Tomar was also a famous Indian athelete during the same time when Milkha Singh was. And biopics on both these athletes have come up in these  2 years. Their on screen versions were done with enough justice. Irrfan articulated him theatrically; Akhtar delves into more physical labour going against an actor's convenience. Both the films generously show the rise and fall of these sportsmen, their sheer strength and most importantly the sporting scene of our country. Both were boys coming from rural who couldn't fit themselves comfortably into spiked sport shoes. One ran for ice-cream, other ran for milk.

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