The mind, you see, is a strange thing. It can make you win a losing battle as it can make you lose a battle wherein your victory was a foregone conclusion. The trick lies in how you can tame it, make it listen to you rather than rule you. It’s the mind that makes Milkha lose the Rome Olympics as it is the mind that enables him to not simply break a National record with injured feet but also “fly” to victory in a country where his family was slaughtered years ago- a memory that has haunted him ever since.
“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” is a through and through Farhan Akhtar movie. I have loved each and every movie that he has been associated with since “Dil Chahta Hai” but even his detractors, who may not like his uber cool, modernistic sensibilities cannot help but applaud him for his portrayal of the “Flying Sikh”. Nothing else to my mind explains why an audience in a movie hall, 50 years after the event, would give him a standing ovation as he wins his battle of nerves in Pakistan. This has to be Farhan Akhtar’s best till date so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flying Sikh was himself moved to tears seeing his life rendered thus.
What can one say about a movie that begins not with the victory of the protagonist but with a crushing defeat so much so that his effigies are burnt on the roads back home? Do you write it off as not doing justice to the man whose life it is based on, a man who is a legend in his own right? Or do you vicariously live this man’s victories and defeats, and realise that the movie celebrates not simply this man’s victories and life but the very spirit of human life- the spirit that rises Phoenix like from its own ashes to touch greater heights.
I had heard of Milkha Singh alright but why he was celebrated so, I had no idea. After all this “Smart Sardar” had not won the much-coveted Olympic gold. But by the end of the movie I realised that he had won something more- conquered his mind, fought his memories and fears. And it is to the Director and Actor’s credit that in an age of instant gratifications, they can make the audience not just sit through a 3hour journey but sit riveted at that.
The beginning of Milkha’s story could be that of anyone who had faced the brunt of the Partition. Rendered homeless and penniless with no one but a battered sister to take care of him, he grows up as nothing more than a street urchin. Love makes him join the Army and the rest, as they say is history. After all, running for a glass of milk is easy to understand – children till date go to school for mid day meal. Be it the glass of milk or the desire for “India ka coat”- something goads him on. Until the desire for excellence itself becomes a motive enough. Even then, he has a bigger race to win where he can conquer his past. And he does- with ease, with élan, for he has achieved the penultimate of all human victories- victory of mind over matter. This is the story of Milkha Singh rendered poignantly by Farhan Akhtar with some great supporting performances by Prakash Raj (as a no-nonsense military man), Pavan Malhotra (as Gurdev Singh, the army coach who groomed Milkha), Yograj Singh (as the national athletics coach) and Divya Dutta (as Milkha’s sister). Sonam Kapoor has precious little to do which is just as well, considering her acting prowess. With soulful music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and great lyrics by Prasoon Joshi, this is a must watch and not simply to drool over Farhan’s body.