Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thoughts on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

Too long to begin with. Very good and authentically shot in the first half, especially in the race track sequence with which it opens and the army drill-field stuff, but most movingly so in the attempt to recreate the partition refugee camp.

Very inauthentic in its representation of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, since there was no serious bonking between Milkha and the Ozzie technical consultant's grand-daughter (and also, Air India did not fly jet aircraft at the time and there was no team representing Germany, which was then divided between west and east).

Gets even more phony in representing the confrontation with a Pakistan athlete first in the British Common-Steal-Your-Wealth games and then in a Lahore stadium -- announced over radio commentary as the "Gaddafi stadium", when Muammar Gaddaffi was probably not even a cadet in the Libyan army and the stadium named after him was still a distant project, executed by Prime Minister Bhutto in the mid-1970s.

Finally, there was no Border Security Force then -- it was only set up well after the military conflict of 1962 -- and the Wagah crossing between India and Pakistan was nothing like it is now. So to have Milkha Singh crossing in an army truck that passes through double gates manned by those goose-stepping BSF jawans and Pakistan rangers, is a bit of putting current animosities back in the past.

This is not about quibbling over details -- just that Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (ROM) -- could have made a much more compact and watchable film if he had avoided making these silly concessions to current sensibilities. But all that said, it is technically very well assembled, though among ROM's films, Delhi 6 still remains my fave, because of its irreverent and whacky tone.

And of course, the young kid who plays Milkha Singh in the pastoral splendour of undivided Punjab and the misery of the refugee camp in Purana Qila, is quite a splendid performer.

Postscript: Though the military rulers of Pakistan are seen to redeem themselves at the end by applauding generously for Milkha's magnificent run, there were no bearded Islamic generals in the Pakistan army at the time. They were all British trained, trimmed-moustache and very pukka sahibs, much like our generals were till about the 1970s. Moreover, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, despite the highly decorative military title he acquired to buttress his political authority, rarely appeared in public in his military uniform. And even if he did, it was not that ornate ensemble he is shown wearing in the film.

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