Movie Review: BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG by FENIL SETA

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Except the various films based on the life and times of the D-Company king and its associates, it’s difficult to recall any significant film of Bollywood which is based on a living personality. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, in that aspect, stands out and fills the much-needed void in our cinema. Promos indicated that it is something to watch out for and thankfully, the film lives upto the expectations!

The story of the movie: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag chronicles the life of ‘The Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar) from his childhood in Multan district in Pakistan, becoming an orphan during partition, spending a rigorous time in the refugee camp in Delhi, falling in love, joining the army, discovering his passion for running and finally representing India in various international sport competitions and getting worldwide recognition.

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It was nothing short of a challenge to encompass the life of Milkha Singh in 188 minutes. But the director and writers manage to do that and at the same time, incorporate tons of entertainment in the narrative. The result: the film engages viewers from start to finish, despite the 3 hours+ duration of the film. Another risk undertaken is telling the story in a non-linear manner. The flashback (Milkha’s childhood) seeps in at strategic points and same goes for the romantic track in the film. All the races in the film shown in the film are well executed and shot and makes for a spectacular watch. Also, Milkha’s transformation is seen to be believed. The climax is the most exciting part of the enterprise and the film ends on a fabulous note.

Two factors, however, prevent Bhaag Milkha Bhaag from becoming a classic and a five-star fare. Firstly, too much was shown in the 3:28 minute long theatrical trailer. Hence, few scenes didn’t make the desired impact since viewers had already seen the scenes before in the promo. Secondly, the consistency is not maintained in the sense that the film goes on a high at places but falls a bit immediately in the next scene. This happens at regular intervals which also in a way takes away the impact to an extent. Moreover, few questions remain unanswered, especially how did Milkha manage to move out of the refugee camp and how did his relation with his brother-in-law got back on track.

Speaking of performances, Farhan Akhtar, as expected doesn’t let down and comes up with an outstanding performance, his best till date. Farhan gets to do everything expected from a typical Bollywood hero – dance, romance, fight, fool around and find his true self – but the role was much more than that. And Farhan succeeds in every respect. I haven’t seen or won’t get to see significant films of this year of every language of the country and yet, I sincerely hope Farhan wins the National Award this year…he deserves it more than anyone. Hats off!

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Sonam Kapoor (Biro) gives a yet another brilliant performance after Raanjhanaa. Rebecca Breeds (Stella) looks extremely beautiful and charming and delivers a fine performance. Pawan Malhotra (Gurudev Singh) is terrific in all his scenes. Yograj Singh (Ranveer Singh) is a great addition to the list of fine performers of Bollywood. Japtez Singh (young Milkha) gives as brilliant a performance as Milkha. The film in a way was on his shoulders too and he fulfills his responsibility beautifully. Divya Dutta (Ishrit Kaur) is very sweet and adorable. The talented actress like every time wins hearts! Prakash Raj (Milkha’s senior) was funny and good to see this brilliant actor not playing the buffoonery villain like he has done in half a dozen films off late! Dalip Tahil (Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru) looks every inch the first PM of India! Meesha Shafi (Perizaad, the swimmer) leaves a deep impact despite being in just three scenes. Art Malik (Milkha’s father) does very well. Nawab Shah (coach Javed), Dev Gill (Abdul Khaliq), Shanta Kumar (Gen Ayub Khan) and Chandan Gill (Sampreet Singh) were good in their small roles. The actor who plays Sher Singh Rana, Milkha’s friends in the Secundarabad army and many others too play their part well.

The music and technical department have also come out like true winners with the film. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is terrific and in sync with the film’s myriad moods. Zinda undoubtedly rocks. Gurbani too makes an impact, especially after one sees the film. Background score is exhilarating. Outstanding will be an understatement for Binod Pradhan’s cinematography…another award-winning stroke of the film. Sets are as authentic as it can get and same goes for costumes. The various colour tones used in the film was a great idea that works well. Prasoon Joshi’s story is well-researched and though it seems that it has been fictionalized to an extent, it still makes for a great watch. Dialogues are sharp while screenplay is exciting. Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra’s direction is brilliant but one wished it could have been better. One wished the tempo was consistent which would have surely made for a better impact. Comparisons can also be drawn to Mani Ratnam’s classic Guru (2007) which remained consistent in its execution from start to finish despite dealing with politics of business, which is not as exciting as sports. But having said that, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has its moments – tons of them actually! Few scenes are out of this world and this doesn’t only include the races. Talking about the races, each race shown in the film is made to look different from each other. Besides, the relation Milkha shared with some of the important people in his life (esp his sister) is well-executed. Moreover, the entire Partition track and the way it’s shown in bits and pieces was a risk that paid off. Great work by Mehra and his team, in short!

Some of the best scenes:
1. The Rome Olympics
2. Milkha discovers his talent for running
3. Milkha humiliated by Sher Singh Rana and his ‘gang’
4. Milkha at refugee camp
5. Milkha loses at the selection round by a whisker
6. The race at intermission point (makes impact despite absence of exhilarating background score)
7. Milkha with Biro (including the ghee scene)
8. Milkha in jail
9. Milkha gives earrings to Ishrit
10. Milkha with Stella
11. Milkha trains at Ladakh
12. Milkha at Asian Games Tokyo
13. The last 25 minutes

On the whole, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, despite its few glitches, makes for a tremendous impact. I don’t remember the last time in the past 1 ½ – 2 years when a film charged me emotionally and provided an exhilarating feeling. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag does that and this is not limited to just the racing sequences. Performances and technical aspects are exemplary. It falls one step short of being a classic but still, it’s definitely a must watch!

My rating-**** out of 5!

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