‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ has been one of the much-awaited movies of this year and will be releasing this Friday. It is a story about the flying sikh who had lost his family during India’s partition in 1947 and went on to compete at the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games.
“We all grew up with the folklore of Milkha, he’s a larger-than-life figure for us,” said the film’s director Rakeysh Mehra.
“He’s like what Pele meant to football, or what Jesse Owens meant for track and field for the West.”
The movie title Bhaag Milkha Bhaag refers to the memorable last words that Milkha’s father had spoken to him asking him to run for his life before he would also be killed in the mayhem that occurred during the riots. Singh boarded the train and other refugees!
Mehra was enthralled by the kind of impact Milkha Singh had on the nation which was still growing and recovering from the freedom struggle.
“At that time, we were looking for heroes outside politics. Outside (Mahatma) Gandhi or (prime minister Jawaharlal) Nehru, there were none that the world knew. So he went out there and in a way conquered the world for us,” he explained.
“This man never ran away from his fears, he ran along with them.
Milkha Singh had finished fourth in the 400 metres at the 1960 Olympics in Rome which was a very interesting race and require a photo finish to determine the fourth place. A very disappointed Singh, who was able to beat everyone and win gold medals at the Asian and Commonwealth Games, could never win an Olympic medal which was his dream.
The director says his film is decidedly “un-Bollywood”, deviating from the typical plotline that aims to “serve a complete meal” by combining elements of dance, drama, emotion and action into one blockbuster.
“Here, drama is the key,” Mehra said.
Bollywood has previously seen many directors experimenting with a biopic and Mehra joins the list as the latest.
“I wanted them to believe that they’ve cast an athlete and taught him how to act, as opposed to the other way around. And that comes from the kind of energy you exude when you walk onto a track and it feels like you belong to this space,” he said.