'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' - run to watch this marvel (IANS Movie Review - Rating: *****)

Film: "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag"; Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Rebecca Breeds, Divya Dutta, Prakash Raj and Pavan Malhotra; Writer: Prasoon Joshi; Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra; Rating: *****

History is created in several ways. One of them is cinema. And if Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" seems like a near-flawless homage to the flying spirit of India's greatest runner, it is partly because the story, so nimbly woven into a pastiche of drama, emotion, humour and pathos by Prasoon Joshi, is in no hurry to keep pace with the onscreen Milkha's breathless sprint.

The story of super-sprinter Milkha Singh unfolds in this exceptional biopic at its own volition. There's no effort here "to tell a story", to create an impression or to whip up a dramatic storm to captivate audiences. The synergy in the storytelling seems subliminal.

Still, we the audience, fed week after week on mediocrity masquerading as cinema, are riveted to the story of Milkha Singh for over three hours of playing time.

How come? Well, to begin with it is Milkha Singh's own powerful life as India's superstar sportsperson that sweeps us into the biopic. Milkha was so poor he couldn't afford running shoes, and when he got them, he didn't know how to run in them. When milk was offered in the army in exchange of running practice, he grabbed it (the run and the milk) with both hands.

A victim of India's brutal partition, Milkha's story was waiting to be told. And thankfully, no one before Mehra saw cinematic potential in his story. If Milkha's story had to be told, the storyteller had to be a master craftsman, and one who doesn't waste space in self-congratulatory flourishes.

With immense help from Prasoon Joshi, Mehra harnesses Milkha's life-story into an experience that is pure cinema and yet undiluted and uncompromised by the mandatory, often silly, illogical and idiotic semantics of mainstream commercial cinema.

The absolutely seamless editing by P. Bharathi is impressive. The film is very stylishly cut, but not at the cost of losing the simplicity and the innate ascetism of the sportsman-hero. And yes, there are songs composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, but they are so effortlessly woven into Milkha's saga that we don't see them as "song breaks".

This is as good a time as any to tell you that Farhan Akhtar does the Bhangra as well as any Punjabi. Actually, he doesn't dance. He just flows with the rhythm. I've never seen any actor dance with such rhapsodic abundance. Neither have I seen any actor run like Farhan.

I don't know how fast Milka ran, but Farhan's Milkha doesn't fake it for even a second. When he runs, he really runs. When he stumbles and takes a fall, we flinch and wince in our seats. Farhan's body language and emotions and expression as Milkha is pitch-perfect.

Farhan doesn't 'play' Milkha. The actor occupies Milkha's mind, body and soul. There are episodes in this astonishingly, well-structured biopic where Farhan's oneness with Milkha equals Ben Kingsley's empathy with Mahatma Gandhi in "Gandhi".

This isn't just a film about a sportsperson who brought untold glory to our country. "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" is the story of an individual's journey from nullity to pinnacles of success in a world where politics and violence are constant reminders of how little an individual's aspirations matter in the larger, often murkier scheme.

In Prasoon Joshi's interpretation of Milkha's amazing success-story, yearning is the cornerstone to achievement. In 1947, when India became two nations, we see little Milkha (Jabtej Singh) run for his life to escape the savage butchery that snatches away almost his entire family. Only his dear sister, played wonderfully by Divya Dutta, remains. As we see it, Milkha never stopped running since the partition trauma.

The 'run' as a metaphor of life's expedient circumstances, runs through the narrative.

Happily, the screen time is as much taken up with Milkha's record-breaking achievements on the field, as it is with vignettes from his personal life. There is a robust heartwarming romance between Milkha and the vessel-friendly 'kudi' Biro (Sonam Kapoor, looking prettier than ever). The writer and director invest inexpressible warmth in the protagonist's courtship scenes. We've seen this kind of love blossom on Punjab's soil before. But it still feels special and unique.

Farhan does the rest. And he gets tremendous support from other actors, specially Divya Dutta, who is incomparably sincere in her role. Pavan Malhotra as Milkha's coach is as usual, first-rate.

Unlike other period films in recent times which have conveniently and lazily resorted to antiques, artefacts and vintage songs, the 1950s in "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" simply and effortlessly emerges from the character and his milieu.

Binod Pradhan's camera glides across Milkha's inner and outer world, and telling it like it is. There's a complex design to the seeming simplicity of this saga of a simple Sikh who would guzzle two cans of ghee on challenge and run to the winning post on feet mauled by jealous rivals.

Who said life could ever be easy for those who aspire to fly higher than the rest? The beautiful irony of Milkha Singh's life that this consummate biopic captures so ably, is that he really didn't aspire to anything. He ran simply because he had to.

The rest, as they say, is history.

"Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" is the kind of cinema that doesn't tempt us to share the protagonist's life with any false hopes. We the audience are driven into a desperate urge to share Milkha's life not only because he ran fast, but because he wasn't afraid to stumble, falter and fall.

Ironically, this film on Milkha rarely slips up, if ever.

At one point, in an under-punctuated flashback, we hear Milkha confide in his sweetheart that he would like the government to declare a national holiday in his honour.

I recommend a national holiday for the entire nation to go and see this movie. It makes the other recent high-profile acclaimed films look hopelessly inadequate.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

As two of the most glamorous sides in the Indian T20 league, the focus of the match between Mumbai and Bangalore will invariably be on the middle-order… More »

BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srinivasan, says Manohar

BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srinivasan, says Manohar

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Pietersen ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Pietersen ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

New-look RCB will play their first game of IPL-7 on Thursday. More »

IPL: News Line

IPL: News Line

A round-up of all the news from this season of the IPL. More »

Shane Watson issues moral warning

Shane Watson issues moral warning

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Nepal players call off boycott

Nepal players call off boycott

Thaw in relations after formation of an advisory committee that would work in tandem with the Cricket Association of Nepal. More »