It is usual to witness 'biopic' genre in Indian mainstream cinema as too ambitious project that on one hand highlighting Indian National heroes and their struggle and contribution to its mass audience and on the other hand can’t eschew the project from routine mainstream formulaic structure of song-dance-drama. The latest entry in the list is Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s bio-pic on legendary athlete Milkha Singh. The major problem with the film is its tedious over running duration that consists of more than three hours. The film about celebrated ‘Flying Sikh’ seems like ‘Snail movement’ due to its shoddy screenplay penned by Prasoon Joshi and that’s real letdown of the film. It is seriously overwrought film, even though based and conceived under Milkha Singh’s personal attention. Screenplay though covers all significant and small issues of the athlete’s career, struggle and life, unfortunately stuffed and stuck with routine formulaic over emotional melodrama, romance, song, dance and unnecessarily stretching trivial details.
Mehra’s earlier hit and much appreciated ‘Rang De Basanti’ finely blend the glorious National rebel history with the contemporary urban rebel youth and this realist flashback blended and fitted so interwovenly in the film that it directly connected to its targeted youth audience. One can see the flashes of it here too but due to shoddy screenplay it fails to make desirable effect. Perhaps this film deserved linear narrative than long, stretching and too certain extent irritating flashback. How 'running' becomes part of Milkha’s life is wonderfully captures in multiple situations of his real life, especially that indelible and nightmarish partition violence witnessed by him that butchered his parents when he was mere ten years old and it keeps haunting his consciousness as he growing into youth. From partition trauma to stealing coal in train and from his army training to his athletic struggle and from his success at Commonwealth, Asian Games and Rome Olympics to his final win at Pakistan winning honour and title of ‘Flying Sikh’ from General Ayub Khan, the film captures and almost authentically documented all that’s part and parcel of Milkha’s life under volatile circumstances. But what makes Mehra and his crew fail to achieve desirable effect is it overwrought part featuring unnecessary emotional bonding with his sister, his formulaic and digressive romance with desi and videsi women and scenes which reflects unwanted regression and aggression in the film. It is these moments which make the film unbearable and mediocre in parts rather than giving its rigorous pace required to the subject.
Mehra’s collaboration with one of India’s finest cameraman works as fantastic as expected whether its sepia tone flashback or dark slow motion nightmare of Milkha’s memory, colorful serenading or use of footage and blending it to screen, Binod Pradhan’s camerawork is surely the thing to watch in the film. One can realize the efforts and sincerity of Farhan Akhtar in frames playing Milkha and he has surely done commendable job compared to all those self promoting stars of so called 100 crore club. But at the same time, he lacks effective underplay in emotional scenes. In some of the scenes, he fails to cover his subjective self reflection under the character he’s playing. But there's no denial that he's sincerity towards the character is impressive. Rest of the cast used either as typical Bollywood side caricaturization whether its Prakash Raj as comic army sidekick, Divya Dutta as over emotional sister or Dalip Tahil clad in shadow of Pt. Nehru. Except the exceptional and restrained performance by one of
India’s underrated and
underexplored actor Pawan Malhotra as Milkha’s athletic coach of army. The surprise of the offering natural and effortless screen presence of child Milkha. The boy
really made it so naturally expressing his emotion, anger and anguish.