Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a drama that's decidedly 'un-Bollywood'

The story of India's most successful track athlete Milkha Singh is the latest biopic to hit cinemas. The film's director says it's decidedly 'un-Bollywood'.

Akhtar, left, in a scene from the film, and Singh, right. Courtesy Viacom 18
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The latest biopic from India to hit cinemas tells the story of the “Flying Sikh” – India’s most successful track athlete who overcame childhood tragedy to seek Olympic glory – is the latest Bollywood biopic to hit cinemas.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run, Milkha, Run) charts the rise of Milkha Singh, who lost his family during India's tumultuous partition in 1947 and went on to compete at the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games.

Singh became a national hero, and the film joins the Bollywood trend of movies based on or inspired by real -stories.

“We all grew up with the folklore of Milkha – he’s a larger-than-life figure for us,” said the film’s director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.

“It’s just like what Pele meant to football, or what Jesse Owens meant for track and field for the West.”

The movie title refers to the poignant last words spoken to Singh by his father: as he was dying, he told Singh to flee or risk being killed in the post-partition riots sweeping the subcontinent.

Singh ran for his life and boarded a train with other refugees.

Mehra was drawn to Singh’s story not just for his sporting achievements but for the effect the athlete had on a newborn nation struggling to assert itself.

“At that time, we were looking for heroes outside politics. Beyond [Mahatma] Gandhi or [prime minister Jawaharlal] Nehru, there was none that the world knew. So he went out there and, in a way, conquered the world for us,” he explained. “This man never ran away from his fears, he ran along with them.”

Singh finished fourth in the 400 metres at the 1960 Olympics in Rome after a spectacular final that was so close, it needed a photo finish to determine fourth place.

A devastated Singh, who won gold at both the Asian and Commonwealth Games, never fulfilled his dream of winning an -Olympic medal.

The director says his film is decidedly “un-Bollywood”, deviating from the typical plotline that aims to “serve a complete meal” by combining elements of dance, drama, emotion and action into one blockbuster.

“Here, drama is the key,” Mehra said.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is out tomorrow (Thursday) in UAE cinemas


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