Movie: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013, Hindi, India)

Bhag Milkha Bhag is a biopic based on the life of the Indian 400 meters Olympian Milkha Singh, who won many international races and held records in the late 1950s to early 1960s.

Bhag Milkha Bhag Poster
Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Released in 2013
Cast Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh (Adult)
Japtej Singh as Milkha Singh (Child)
Divya Dutta as Isri Kaur (Milkha’s Sister)
Soonam Kapoor as Biro (Milkha’s romantic interest)
Pawan Malhotra as Gurudev Singh (Milkha’s army coach)
Yograj Singh as Ranveer Singh (Indian National Coach)
Prakash Raj as tough army officer (Milkha’s army officer)
Dalip Tahil as Jawaharlal Nehru (Prime Minister of India)
K K Raina as Wadhwa (Bureaucrat)
Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
Produced by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra & Viacom
Language Hindi
Length 3 hours 10 mins

The Story

The film starts with the 1960 Rome Olympics, where Milkha Singh (played by Farhan Akhtar)  is leading a pack of elite runners in the 400 meters final. Something happens as he hears his coach shout “bhag Milkha, bhag” – he slows down and looks back, comes fourth and misses a podium finish.

After that, Milkha refuses to participate in the next event – some sort of friendship games with Pakistan to restore normalcy of relationship with India, even though the heads of both the nations are backing the event and would like their best athletes to compete. Many assume that the loss at Rome has broken Milkha’s spirit, and try to persuade him to participate.

The rest of Milkha’s story is narrated through a series of flashbacks – some flashbacks take us through his early youth and some to his childhood.

Milkha’s early childhood is shown in a village in Multan (currently in Pakistan), as the son of a farmer, living with his large family. During the partition, the young Milkha (played by Japtej Singh) is orphaned and has to join the exodus fleeing the newly carved nation of Pakistan. He reaches a refugee camp in Delhi alone and is later reunited with his elder sister, Isri Kaur (played by Divya Dutta). He lives in impoverished camps where he joins a ‘gang’, and takes to stealing and other petty crimes for survival. He and his friends graduate to stealing coal from running trains and then selling it in the black market.

As a teenager, Milkha falls in love with a girl called Biro (Soonam Kapoor) who lives in the same locality. After an arrest for some misdemeanour and his release, Milkha decides to transform himself and joins the army. Lured by the prospect of extra milk and eggs, Milkha participates in a race and is selected by coach Gurudev Singh (played by Pawan Malhotra) to represent his army unit. And from there he gradually improves his running (while overcoming hurdles created by jealous rivals) with the help of his coaches and is selected to represent India at international meets.

Somewhere along the road, his beloved Biro marries someone else.

Milkha performs much below par at the Melbourne Olympics (1956), due to indiscipline, partying too hard, and sleeping too late before the races. He chastises himself, and determines to break the current world record for the 400 meters dash.

From then on Milkha is on a roll – completely focused on his training, participating in events and winning medals, breaking records, with support from his national coach, Ranveer Singh (played by Yograj Singh), till the narrow miss at Rome.

[The movie implies that Milkha breaks a world record, but in reality, I don’t think Milkha Singh ever held a world record].

After the Rome debacle and his initial refusal to go to Pakistan, Milkha finally relents, responding to an appeal from the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

In Pakistan he skips a pre-race press conference to make a visit (all alone) to his old village Govindpura in Multan. He recalls how he fled the village to his father’s shouts of “bhag Milkha, bhag” just before a man on a horse attacked his father with a sword (during the partition massacres). And how (after the attackers leave) he found the butchered bodies of his family members dumped in a bloody heap. Milkha makes peace with his past and also connects with an old school friend in the village.

Milkha wins the race in Pakistan, beating his Pakistani rival Abdul Khaliq. In the post-race presentation, General Ayub Khan dubs him “the flying sikh” – a name that has stuck to Milkha Singh ever since. At the end (of the movie) Jawarharlal Nehru declares a national holiday to honour Milkha’s feats.

Inspiring biopic of setbacks, bravery, and victory

The movie is taut and engrossing. It is also a highly inspiring tale of a real hero. The races and the training sessions are realistic and the scenes of the partition are gripping. The reconstruction of various settings, from 1947 onwards – like the village in Multan, the refugee camps in Delhi, the stadiums, etc., is pretty authentic. Some of the scenes from Leh-Ladhak are worth watching just for the photography.

Farhan Akhtar (as the adult Milkha Singh) has surpassed his previous performances in Rock On, Kartik Calling Kartik, and Zindagi Na Millegi Dobara. Akhtar plays the role of a 20-30 year athlete effortlessly (though I believe that he is close to 40 years old), and it hard to believe that he is not a champion athlete (he must have worked terribly hard at his fitness).

Newcomer Japtej Singh is brilliant as the child Milkha – I hope we see more of him in future. Divya Dutta (as Milkha’s elder sister Isri Kaur) turns in an excellent perforrmance – she sensitively portrays her special relationship with Milkha as the only other surviving member of his family.

Soonam Kapoor (as Biro), Prakash Raj (as an army officer), Pawan Malhotra (as Gurdev Singh, coach in the army), and Yograj Singh (as Ranveer Singh, national coach) are competent.

K K Raina (as a bureaucrat) and Dalip Tahil (as Jawaharlal Nehru) are a bit stilted and awkward – but they have minor roles in the movie.

With this movie being so popular (it has been declared a box-office hit), the name of Milkha Singh may get associated with Farhan Akhtar’s face from now on (like Ben Kingsley became M K Gandhi’s face after the movie Gandhi). So, just to remind everyone that the real Milkha Singh looks different, here is Milkha Singh’s Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milkha_Singh

This is a must see movie for all – best viewed in a theatre (I saw it in one) – with all the cheering and whistling from the audience. If you have missed that opportunity, see it on the small screen using a DVD or Blueray (seeing it on a movie channel with all the adverts will spoil the fun).

The DVD is now available at Amazon.in, Amazon.com and Flipkart.

That the movie is more than 3 hours long – and that is one thing that goes against it.

The background music, songs and dances are pretty good and one song sequence (maston ka jhund) stands out. Enjoy this clip from youtube:

(If the youtube clip does not load, use the url https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nR9JS2WsNg)

I think now management / leadership coaches will milk Bhag Milkha Bhag to draw out “lessons” from this great movie. We may soon see the exerpts of the movie being shown in MDP/ LDP programs – like they did with Lagaan and Chak de India.

The DVD is now available at Amazon.in, Amazon.com and Flipkart.

You can read reviews of movies and TV serials here (https://rajeshnaik.com/category/movies/).

Your comments are welcome!


I'm Rajesh Naik, and this is my personal website If you are interested in contacting me professionally, I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. You may also check out my professional website, Alignmentor.com.

One thought on “Movie: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013, Hindi, India)”

  1. Thanks your take on this movie, Rajesh.

    I missed watching the movie when it was released at a theater closer home. If this is not playing on any of the Multiplex screens in Bangalore, I will catch up on a DVD.

    Regards
    Prakash

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