“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”… Perplex Singh

It’s an odd turn of events when a web page whose accuracy is suspect can fill you with more insight about a person than a painstakingly mounted three-hour movie. In possession of but the most generic facts about the Flying Sikh, I looked up the Wikipedia entry and found this: “As of 2013, he is the only Indian male athlete to win an individual athletics Gold in Commonwealth Games… He is married to former captain of Indian Women Volleyball team, Nirmal Kaur… Despite the lack of an Olympic medal, Milkha Singh’s achievements are hailed because of the circumstances under which he achieved them as well as the lack of infrastructure and resources in independent post-colonial India.” That, right there, is a great story. The union of two people from two spheres of sport, bookended by two bits of perspective – first, a single man’s exceptional achievement in a country of crores, and second, what this meant to a new nation thirsting for freshly forged heroes, once the heroes of the Independence movement had passed on.

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Save the winning of the medal, none of this is in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. There’s always something happening, but very little perspective on why this man’s life demanded to be made into a movie. We didn’t face this issue with Paan Singh Tomar, the story of another athlete from a newly minted India. He too joined the army, discovered a sporting talent (and the fact that this talent would ensure good food; Milkha, similarly, loves milk, which he gets glassfuls of after he opts to run), and preferred to run barefoot rather than with shoes with spikes. But each major race gave us insights into Tomar’s psyche, while also showcasing his character quirks. Milkha Singh (a hardworking Farhan Akhtar) comes across, simply, as an affable god-fearing bloke – and affable god-fearing blokes are the hardest to put on screen. The very niceness that makes them wonderful to be around is deadly for drama. We need to feel the drive, the dedication, the sacrifices, the madness even that it takes, in a ghee-loving country, to consecrate one’s body to the pursuit of athletic excellence. We see a lot of this. We feel none of it.

I felt nothing for Milkha when his family (which includes Art Malik with a fantastic beard) is massacred. I felt nothing when he returned to his village and wept, and he was reunited with an old friend. (I had a hard time remembering who this old friend was.) I felt nothing for his romance with Biro (Sonam Kapoor). I felt nothing when he lost, and when he won races. A film like this should whip you into a frenzy, and here I felt I was at the receiving end of a life in bullet points. This happened. Then that happened. Then this happened. And then that happened. The glue that holds it all together, unifying these various happenings into a single remarkable life, is absent – and this loss is all the more acute because of Mehra’s mode of operation. His filmmaking may be state-of-the-art, but he is a resolutely old-fashioned filmmaker in the best sense: he loves the rhythms, the dramatic devices of pre-multiplex Bollywood, and he’s not afraid to trot them out in the service of his stories.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has capital-S sentiment, involving a sister (Divya Dutta) who springs Milkha from jail with money obtained from selling her earrings. There’s comic relief in an army recruit who speaks in a high voice. There’s a villain (marked with the villainous name of Sher Singh Rana) who sneers at Milkha’s dreams of wearing the India blazer – and their subsequent competition, with Milkha running barefoot and Sher Singh with fancy shoes, carries the charge of Naya Daur playing out on a racetrack. Some of the performances are ripely theatrical. Dalip Tahil, who plays Nehru, seems to be auditioning for Bharat Bhushan’s role in Jahan Ara, declaring national holidays with the sense of happy entitlement that made kings shower gold coins on the court poet. The musical cues, too, are unapologetically old-world. A sarangi wails when Milkha is reunited with his sister after the Partition, and Milkha’s recurring Zanjeer-like nightmare, involving a horse and triggered by the cry “bhaag Milkha,” is thickly layered with terrifying sound.

This prime purpose of this hyper-emotional style of filmmaking is to make us feel – all this emotion is the glue. That’s why, in the older films, we don’t complain about how inorganic the individual elements are – they come together not logically (in the head) but emotionally (in the heart). And when that doesn’t happen, we begin to question the use of those tropes, like in the Biro interlude, where we’re shown that Milkha stopped his illegal dealings when she hauled him up. In an older film, her words would have stung like a whiplash and that hurt would have been held on to, but here, the moment is never brought up again and all we experience is yet another iteration of the ‘wayward man reformed by the love of a good woman’ cliché. Another ill-used masala-movie trope is the one when a child transforms into an adult in the midst of an activity that defines him. After Partition, in a refugee camp, Milkha drifts into a group of delinquents, and they steal coal from trains. One instant, Milkha is a boy, being chased by someone who’s caught him stealing, and the next, he’s a man – he’s Farhan Akhtar. This is a great hero-introduction shot – the only problem being that we’ve already been introduced to the hero. The film begins with the 1960 Rome Olympics, where Milkha’s loss dashed a nation’s hopes, and this later shot of boy-becoming-man feels redundant.

That, really, could be said about a lot of this long movie. (Pawan Malhotra, who plays Milkha’s coach Gurudev Singh, utters the film’s truest words: “Yeh kahaani bahut lambi hai.”) The portions in Australia, for instance, where Milkha has a fling with a local named Stella (Rebecca Breeds), feel out of place in this narrative because if we’re hewing to old-world values (in filmmaking if not in life), then the loss of Biro would not have resulted in Milkha’s sleeping with another woman, leave alone a western woman., especially in the 1950s. Why not linger on this uncharacteristic development (for an Indian male of the time, who’d have nursed a heavy heart through a couple of Rafi numbers) instead of just casually throwing it in our faces? Throughout Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, we are rarely inside Milkha’s head. After winning all those other races, why did he fail in Rome? Surely the metaphor of running as a way of fleeing past horrors was at play earlier too, and when he was able to conquer those emotions, why not in Rome? These are beats that need dwelt on, and the subsequent shame, scored to the cries of an angry nation (a newspaper headline goes, The Great Indian Tragedy), doesn’t register either. We’re meant to see how Milkha worked his way out of this hole and steeled himself for a sporting event in Pakistan, the home of all his Partition-related horrors, but the film, with its flashbacks, keeps looping back on itself and this clean narrative hook is lost.

One way to make a sports movie is to draw from the Rocky template. One underdog. One sweet girlfriend. One gruff coach who ladles out tough love. One big fight. But Mehra is after a sprawling epic, and the constant back-and-forth of the narrative blurs the clean emotional lines and erodes our investment. The scenes in the past (like Milkha being unafraid to run on hot sand) don’t inform the future, and there’s no buildup to the last race. (Some lives deserve the epic treatment. Maybe this one didn’t?) And it doesn’t help that scenes just go on and on, with a framing device that revolves around three men who set out on a train to Chandigarh in order to convince Milkha to participate in that event in Pakistan. You think, once they finish the backstory and meet the man, something will happen, something dramatic to justify the need to show their setting out on this journey in the first place – but there’s no payoff. They have tea at Milkha’s and tell him, baldly, that the Prime Minister wants to meet him. Where’s the drama of his decision-making, the pull between wanting to serve the nation and save himself from the past? A telephone call from the Prime Minister’s office would have sufficed.

The sporting sequences are equally adrift. All the training – the really important stuff, like improving stamina – seems to happen in the second half, so we’re left with the question if it was just dumb luck and constant running practice that helped Milkha win those earlier races. (It clearly wasn’t, but the film makes it look that way.) There’s the feeling that Milkha Singh began to take running seriously only after the failure at Melbourne, because earlier, the races are used for entertainment – for comedy (his discomfort with spiked shoes looks like learning to walk in high heels) or drama (a stone that pierces his foot is inflated to a big metaphor about obstacles that need to be overcome). Small moments are suffused with Enormous Significance. The scene where Milkha Singh, after that humiliation at Melbourne, walks up to his coach and indirectly indicates his desire to do better is so drawn out and laden with import that at any moment I thought I’d begin to hear conch shells.

None of Mehra’s earlier films have ended up so conventional, so dull, so like an earnest Hollywood Oscar-bait production from the 1950s. The technical values are top-notch – water has never swirled so beautifully in a brass bucket – but Mehra doesn’t use the songs as well as he did in Rang De Basanti and Delhi-6, and the characters all come from tired old moulds. (Compare Divya Dutta’s low-caste waste-collector and Pawan Malhotra’s crude businessman in flashy shirts, in Delhi-6, to the stereotypes they’re forced to play here.) The only acting moment where I sat up was when an exhausted officer at the refugee camp, after Partition, snaps at Milkha, and then, when he looks up and sees it’s just a boy, his tone softens. Mehra’s earlier films were filled with these down-to-earth and human moments. Here, there’s the stifling sense of watching something exalted, with more manipulative slow-motion running than in Chariots of Fire. Early on, when an injured Milkha Singh runs, his bandages, which unravel midway, flap in the wind like flags. He’s not won a single race, and he’s already a marble monument.

Copyright ©2013 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

72 thoughts on ““Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”… Perplex Singh

  1. I definitely felt that a linear narration would have elevated the movie by some notches and also given us a better emotional connect with the lead character .I am definitely ok with the old style of story telling as long as I it can have the right impact , but here it was all so chaotic with the non linear narration and it seriously took away much of the joy of watching a inspiring sports drama.


  2. Yet another example of a film review which has clear, elaborately substantiated analysis.

    even if we disagree with dr.rangan’s take, we have to admit that he has never doled out the ISI/Agmark standard indian film review with sweeping generalisations, bullshit objectivity and juvenile star-ratings.

    plus, he sticks his neck out suggesting provocative funda about narrative devices and character/emotional-arc etc.! (but minus the postmodern, jargon-filled rhetoric of the bearded-brigade who are clearly scared that you might even understand what they are saying!).

    btw, doc, why would you impose a ‘Rocky’-kind of template on a real(istic) story?


  3. I always have this thing in mind that its impossible to do a biopic in the Bollywood format.

    The very nature of the format seems to me, either ends up with the film pondering or worshipping. Never involving as a film, or objective in its approach (although objectivity is not always necessary).

    Can you recall and suggest any biopics made well in our country?


  4. Hard to disagree with most of the points and yet you seem to have spoken like one with expectations in that a lesser film maker would have been spared some of the stick. Also, maybe milkha did have that fling in australia. To that end, it’s commendable that he doesn’t brush it under the carpet in the quest for the ideal. Besides, the reason for his disqualification is partly the ‘distraction’ too, no?


  5. I think this is the most unemotional a review can get to a film like ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’. Yes, I carefully choose the word ‘unemotional’ as an adjective to your ‘review’ with much thought (and feel) as well. Coz, it appears as if in every frame of the film, if there appeared a white box (truth, passion, heart, will, spirit, sacrifice) and a black box (cerebral exercise, ego, identity self-eulogy, ‘see how much I know’, ‘see how much I can analyse and pinpoint loopholes’, ‘power I wield over your review viewers’, ‘thinking about the review while watching the film’), you kept choosing the black box. again and again and again and again, right through the 3+ hours runtime of the film.

    It’s as if, you try to crudely, microscopically pinpoint the flaws of a woman who is deeply and madly in love with you. I use the metaphor of the ‘woman madly in love’, coz thats what a true, honest, passionate sports film is all about. It doesnt follow the rules of ‘how to write a perfect screenplay’ (3 act structure, linear-nonlinear, beginning-middle-end, et al), neither does it bother about the logical intricacies of a crime thriller, et al. A sports film is just like love and life. If we start doing a cerebral microscopic exercise on every detail in love and life, we would lose their core essence. We would stop ‘feeling’ and just keep thinking, rethinking, rerethinking and so onnn … (you not being able to ‘feel’ a lot of things in the film, as mentioned in your review, has a lot to do with you than the film.)

    to me, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ is like love and life, that way. specifically, it being a bio pic of Milkha Singh – the ‘life’ of a man who ‘love’d his sport to no ends. And thus, I feel this film (not every film, ‘this film’) has to be viewed from the heart. And if viewed so, it does touch you. Infact it pounds your heart. I dont think this film should be reduced down with grammar, rules, analysis, knowledge, et al. Even if you are a sucker for logical consistency, would you do so with your loved one?

    Well, I had a heart-to-heart connection with the makers of this film, Milkha Singh and every other sportsperson who played with his heart.

    In this 3 minute video, if even for a second, you cant see it with your heart, then I dont have much to say. actually I have – “thank god, you never played a sport or took up sports coaching.” ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ is in many ways like this 3 minute video. Ask any sportsperson or any other true soul with a bigger heart than brain.



  6. On the contrary, I loved the movie. Although your review totally gave a very different perspective, I admired it for the simplicity with which it was detailed. Milkha’s life was required to be made for our generation and credit does go to Farhan for essaying this role. Here’s my review of BMB.

    Farhan’s sincerity and Milkha’s inspiration makes it a Must watch, 4.5/5 #BMB http://wp.me/p2ILKZ-b6


  7. I have been reading your reviews…You seem to be suffering from what I call “Parthiban syndrome”. Parthiban from the tamil movie industry would in every situation try to project himself to be an intellectual and different from the rest just to get that additional attention. Your case also seems just like that. When the whole World is reviewing this to be one of the best movies in recent times, your review is just opposite. As Annamalai has pointed out, you seem to have taken extreme efforts to identify flaws in the movie…Anyway keep going. We need some people like you to make this World little more interesting..


  8. Baddy, superb review! I haven’t seen the film yet, but could almost feel everything you said, being familiar with Milkha’s life story. That said, I do think Milkha’s life could be made an epic, if handled correctly by the film maker. It was surely inspirational to the likes of PT Usha, Shiney Abraham etc. and many country men who needed sporting heroes. For instance, we crowed about the achievements of Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan, which in hindsight, are, don’t get me wrong, just above average. I was a vociferous supporter of them too but it was more driven by the need to have world class heroes. But your question itself on whether his life deserved an epic is valid.

    For me, I’m disappointed with the reviews of this film. I wanted this to be a great film both for Rakesh and Farhan, who has shown extraordinary dedication to this role. Well, sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles…

    Again, superb perspective on the film. That said, you need to write scripts and screenplays more! :-)


  9. BR – I have no idea – I get that the film is flawed, but reading your review, it seems like there’s no redeeming factor at all. I was looking forward for a more objective and balanced review, especially since you do so with even movies I thought were really dire. Oh well.

    Going to watch it regardless :)


  10. “When the whole World is reviewing this to be one of the best movies in recent times, your review is just opposite. ”

    Venkat, you’re wrong. In the case of this film, BR is not alone. If you go to this page, you will be able to find many reviewers who were disappointed by the film.

    Just because a reviewer found flaws in the movie doesn’t mean he has some agenda or is trying to be an intellectual (or anything similar).

    What BR stated simply is fact: It plays exactly like the kind of film that is called “Oscar bait” in Hollywood. Whether you like that kind of thing or not is your personal choice, but that doesn’t change the fact that the film is made in a style that is far too conventional when compared to ROP’s earlier efforts.


  11. Learn to appreciate a good effort..the way farhan has run in the movie. .I dnt think any other actor has ever attempted to do so..except for the time they use body doubles..its an excellent movie which only inspires the youth to rise from the ashes..quit the negativity n appreciate the effort..


  12. I cant help but notice how the supposedly path breaking directors have not met the expectations that they set out with their first and second films like Vishal Bhardwaj and Mehra. Other filmmakers of their age have largely sidelined to production like Ghai and Barjaatya although none of these directors have anything in common with each other.In the mean time the likes of younger generation from A. Kashyap to A.Mukherjee seem to have taken the carpet from under their feet. Do you think that they have missed the pulse somewhere and that the shift was only a matter of time?

    I find it so fascinating that a Salman Khan starrer might make more money each more than the other and dumber too, at that, a Khan is no longer necessary to sell a movie at all. I cant remember the last time I went to see a Khan starrer in a hall whereas Lootera, I saw just last week in a packed theatre in London.

    I also have issues with a few of the points raised by others regarding the criticism that you have with the movie. Haven’t they heard of Paan Singh Tomar? :P

    If one is so enamoured by a topic/biopic and cannot stick to it in cinematic parlance one might as well make a documentary. Maybe that would have done more justice to the person and the subject no? Your criticism, I think that they missed, is with the cinema of it and not in person or of the person,per se. I personally don’t subscribe to Farhan Akhtar’s jack of all trades agenda, something is so blah,so beige about it all, its like you can take the boy out of Mumbai but you cannot take Mumbai out of the boy.


  13. Vasisht Das: Thanks. You made me laugh with “bullshit objectivity” – for that’s what I think claims to be objective are. Bullshit :-)

    About the “Rocky” template, I am not suggesting they impose that on Milkha’s story. Merely suggesting that that’s one way to make a sports movie, while Mehra chose another.

    Vishak Bharadwaj: I always have this thing in mind that its impossible to do a biopic in the Bollywood format.

    Not at all. Have you seen “Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani?” Or even something like “Mughal-e-Azam” (however much fictionalised) comes to mind. If you consider the non-Bollywood style of filmmaking, there’s “Bandit Queen,” “Paan Singh Tomar”…

    Yogesh: you seem to have spoken like one with expectations in that a lesser film maker would have been spared some of the stick

    That’s always the case, no? Firstly, the film sets the bar for itself, and the bar that a “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” sets for itself is much higher than what something like the “Chashme Buddoor” remake sets for itself. And your expectations are calibrated accordingly. And then, in addition, there’s the personal and subjective aspects the viewer or reviewer brings to the table. In my case, those expectations came from “Rang De Basanti” (to a lesser extent) and “Delhi-6”, whose first three-quarters is some of the finest filmmaking in the Bollywood format I’ve seen in years. To fall from that to this is, well, disappointing, and I suppose the sense of “betrayal” is greater than if a nobody had made this film.

    Annamalai: you not being able to ‘feel’ a lot of things in the film, as mentioned in your review, has a lot to do with you than the film

    And that is true of everyone. Watching a film has everything to do with “you,” and anyone who says that they are seeing a film objectively, without any personal baggage, is a liar.

    Indianmalefeminist: Regarding redeeming factors, I have mentioned that it is technically top-notch. But I also think that, after so many years of multiplex cinema (not to mention 100 years of Indian cinema), we should stop having orgasms over “period detail” and suchlike. We rarely see Western reviewers go into raptures about art direction, for instance, because the high standards are expected. I would have been surprised if Binod Pradhan here had delivered anything less.

    Nirja: I don’t know if I’d make a sweeping statement like that. With Vishal Bhardwaj, for instance, of late he seems to be interesting in a slightly surreal kind of filmmaking. He may perfect it. Or he may go back to doing what he did so well with “The Blue Umbrella.” Or he may move on to another style. I guess it boils down to whether you, as a viewer, expect films that are good overall or can find happiness in “interesting even if not fully satisfying” films.

    “I personally don’t subscribe to Farhan Akhtar’s jack of all trades agenda, something is so blah,so beige about it all, its like you can take the boy out of Mumbai but you cannot take Mumbai out of the boy.”

    That’s an interesting viewpoint. Most people I know love him :-)

    Vishak Bharadwaj: Not seen it yet.


  14. @BR: Oh no, I mean besides that obviously. I would’ve thought there’s a fine line between getting orgasmic and say, being more balanced? I read a few reviews which pointed out a few aspects, which I definitely think are possible strong suits. I mean reading your review, the impression I get is that the film is unbearable trash, despite technical perfection. Anyhow :)

    As for western reviewers etc, most of the western critics oddly enough happens to think that the film’s overall good :)


  15. I ahvea slightly different atke on the film.

    To start with, let me confess, reaction to a film for me is a one –zero binary affair. Either it connects with me and engages or it does not. The nuances come later.

    Well this one connected . Right from the first frame. The non-linear style of storytelling is that I have been pleading for has been employed here to great effect. It makes a long story more absorbing if you don’t start in the beginning and end in the end. Jodhaa Akbar did not follow this pat and dragged. 3 Idiots did and had us in its grip throughout.

    And when a film connects, the length does not deter, in fact just the opposite happens. You want the movie to go on and on. Like a TV serial you are hooked onto. My other pet format is films that are. Apart from being long, are the types where there is no urgency to tell a story, where nothing much happens. Hum Aapke Hain Koun../ and from the recent crop, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani are good examples the genre. When a film is tightly scripted with a great plot it si very satisfying. But you are enjoying it as a story, a piece of fiction. But when a film unfolds ata leisurely pace as if not ina hurry to go anywhere, fools you into thinking that what you are observing is life, and not a film. The near 4-hour length of Lagaan works that way. Of course for this to happen, the characters must connect and the moments must resonate with emotions and humour.

    And that happens fabulously in Bhag Milkha Bhag. The early Pakistan portions as well as the early days in the army just charm your pants off with detailing and honesty. The great production values also help. I love the scenes with the young Milkha and his buddy taking off their clothes to wade through the river on the way to school., his little moments with hi sister, his adventures with the boys gang, the scenes with the glass of milk and two raw eggs, the Indian blazer and many other such moments. I also love the sheer physicality of the film. You can touch and feel the rawness of Milkha’s early life. The way he gulps his milk with the eggs, the sheer visceral depiction of the stone piercing his bare feet, or the concreteness of how the young Milkha holds the rope of a refugee camp tent and swivels back to see his long lost sister. There are scenes which apparently have no relevance to the main narrative of Milkha’s life as a runner, and I love that . You know all the dots in your life do not join to form the picture which the world knows you by. The dots connect for sure, but to form many other smaller pictures, that are lesser known. The Pakistan scenes bring a lump to your throat precisely because of this. And also because many are the sense which you don’t often see in partition films..like the classroom scenes with mostly Muslim students and the Sikh teacher. The army scenes win our hearts because it sucks us into another world, the lived in reality of small town lowly recruits and their innocent hearts.

    Because these sense work so well, you cringe at the pre-climax scenes where the director goes all mushy, making the young Milkha cry out ‘ maa’ interminably, letting him slip over blood, and trip over a heap of dead bodies. Same with the scene where the grown up Milkha is shown breaking down and crying , again for an inordinately long stretch, inviting teeters from the audience. Why was all this necessary when we had already bought into Milkha’s pain and sense of loss. Why a sledge hammer when a feather would have sufficed?

    The theater reverberates with claps at many pints, starting from grown up Milkha’s entry to his first victory that will entail him to the milk and eggs to the bigger victories later. And the athletics portions too work reasonably well. The big challenge here was to how to fashion a rousing narrative out of a runner’s life whose highlight was a race that he lost. The writers solved it nicely by starting out with the race in Rome and ending with the race in Pakistan.

    It avoids being a typical sports film with the episodes involving Sonam and the Australian chick. It is good to see a film where the ladies just disappear as they do in real life and there is no attempt at connecting the dots. ( And to those who say the film takes cinematic liberties in adding these romances, my question is , how do you know Milkha’s private life better than the scriptwriters who had his confidence? ) The songs are used very well without sticking out. The two dance sequences one in the army camp and the other in the Australia pub are very charming. The only grouse I have si about the background score. If the early portions are accompanied by boring mournful music, searing guitr solos make sudden appearances like when they are travelling to Pakistan, without any coherence or building of mood. My enjoyment of the film was significantly affected by this fact and I sorely missed Rahman here.

    And what can one say about the performances? The film is held tohether by the superlative work of everyone starting with Farhna to Divya Dutta, Pavan Mlahotra, the young Milkha, and others. Farhan is of course brilliant and without him this film simply won’t have flown. When I read Aseem Chhabria’s review mention something like , “ He acts with every muscle in his body’. I thought it was cheesy. But after seeing the film I realize it is true. It has always been my grouse that how in Bollywood people think one acts only from neck upwards. Down south from Kamalahasan to Dhanush and everyone in between acct with their whole bodies. And when you are depicting the struggle and triumph of a runner, the body is the canvas on which the strokes have to be painted. And if anyone has done some athletics at any phase of one’s life one can appreciate his aspect better. Farhan brings out the emotions involved in pushing your body to the limit as any professional athlete in the highest league must. Here again the film succeeds in engaging the audience by drawing us into a world that most f us cannot experience… pushing your body to the limit. He is also equally lovable as the ingenuous , small town recruit in the army. After Dhanush in Raanjhanaa, this is the performance the nation will be talking about.


  16. This is the post pathetic,immature and unreasonable analysis of a movie ever done. Just penning down your thoughts doesn’t give you the power to judge. You need to rise a lot to understand what the movie tried to say.Please do a research on why Milkha Singh failed in Rome.. this piece of writing is not backed by enough reasoning. The writer needs to know facts and stats before commenting.


  17. Annonymous: This piece does not pretend to be anything other than ‘ penning down my thoughts.’ . I also confess I do not know all the facts and stats. Nor do I think that is a necssary precondition for seeing the film or writing about it. But I don’t think you need to make a films to analyze the cause of Mikha Singh’s failure in Rome. That can be done in a newspaper article.


  18. Aneela Z
    Aneela Z
    MOVIE JOCKEY 16 19
    Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Review – The Flying Sikh—and you thought “Friends Not Masters” was Ayub Khan’s best line? Jul 13, 2013 5 3.5/5
    Verdict – Watch, to get closure.
    When we were kids they told us stories about princes who looked back on hearing voices and turned into stone. Later we realised it was about the power of not allowing the past to cripple us. Keeping in mind our horrible histories it could have been the best a certain generation could come up with if they had to make sense of their future. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is about a man who is haunted by the ghosts of his past, and how he will finally find closure. A twelve year old boy flees from a riot stricken Southern Punjab and makes his way into a refugee camp in Delhi. Reunited with his sister who will become the only constant factor in his journey he will rise to become one of India’s finest athletes. Along the way he will join a coal stealing gang, carry the girl next door’s buckets when young men who would one day run with him were carrying their sweetheart’s books home, encounter a psycho Pakistani coach whose pep talks with his ward bordered on homoerotic, and meet Field Marshal Ayub “Friends Not Masters” Khan who we now discover Milkha Singh’s moniker Flying Sikh. Now if he had spent more time polishing his gift with words than conducting coups, Pakistan would have been a far differnt story.

    The reason Bhaag Milkha Bhaag works is because of the sheer canvas of the protagonist’s life and sadly that is what holds it back too. The trouble with memories is that they are subjective, the narrator may not always be generous in accomodating you as you go along, you may ask “why are we stopping here? why dont you tell me more about…”. Perhaps, in the end it may all come together for the audience. But for a while you are exhausted as the raconteur adds just one more log in the fire. And as ever you have to suspend belief and trust Milkha for these are his memories, whether it is humming patriotic songs to woo his beloved and not something from Aah that is playing in the neighbourhood, or the sea of prayer caps that he encounters across the Wagah. For you know this is 1960, when Meesha Shafi’s (who plays the enigmatic “Im just a girl standing in front of a boy in the swimming pool asking him to love her” Perizaad) grandfather may have been walking to a meeting of the Progressive Writer’s Association in Lahore, her grand-aunts would have been teasing their hair into Queen Farah style bouffants. Mall Road and Falletti’s “teddy boys” will be turning in their graves knowing that they have gone down in cinematic history as little flag waving madrassah boys. Far better that we admire Mehra for his little flourishes– we had for one not seen a particular cinematic device for age progression that was a staple for Bachchan movies for a while. Mehra’s use of the colour red through the movie. whether in Singh’s bandages unfurling in the wind, in a sweetheart’s scarf, the bloodied salwar of a younger Singh . Mehra does South West Punjab well, which in the days of Punjab de puttar and balle balle is such a relief.

    You will wonder whether Singh ever ran for the sheer pleasure of it? There is a brief moment in the beginning when a young Milkha just glides over sand running home from school, and you see the look of sheer abandon on his face, his feet seemingly never touching ground. But after that brief glimpse we see him running to save his life, away from authority figures, to win love, and settle scores. And then one day that little boy will be running with him. I would watch the movie again just to see that boy return. And that with Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi joining the project “filmon ki tarah hamari zindagi mein bhi end tak sab theek ho hee jaata hai”. For that I am ever so grateful.



  19. I felt compelled to post this on fb:

    Writing a review of BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG is complicated business. It is a film to be watched on its own terms. Milkha’s journey and the triumph, though awe-inspiring, are not quite cinema-compliant. But it would be impossible to separate the film from its context without altering its very character. It was the director’s call. Going by the end product, I must say it was a call well taken. Judged strictly as a film, its shortcomings would make a long list. But I -like most of the audience – remained riveted to the screen for a large part of its extraordinary 200-minute length. That itself counts as a strong recommendation. It would be no mean feat to achieve for even a less ambitious bollywood potboiler, and this one was a biographical.


  20. but the funny bit is that milkha’s never visited his village in pakistan. much pasts of the film are conveniently fictionalised. imagine an indian — and a sikh and an armyman to boot — taking a mobike ride on anyone’s first return to the country after partition. and he’s riding unescorted all the way from lahore to multan, and then all the old associations tumble out. v strange. also, have never seen such well-fed refugees.


  21. I’m in the theatre. It’s the interval. And I’ve loved everything so far. I’ve wept and laughed and held my breath. I’d read a part of your review before i started out today, and i was wondering why i was “feeling”. Just saying. Also, he remembers his grandfather’s voice when someone says “bhaag milkha bhaag”…


  22. Okay. So, now that i’ve watched the entire movie and read all of the comments, i’ve got to agree with chalatmusafir’s words. I realized that the reason i was so riveted to the screen and the seat, sobbing almost hysterically through what feels like 30% of the film and so *invested* in Milkha Singh’s story, was because i understood where he was coming from, i knew the history and the geography of the partition, and i knew Milkha Singh (the first time i heard his name was in context of the “are you relaxing?” joke, probably 15 years ago!), but i hadn’t juxtaposed those two events….Perhaps, also because i’m currently in the thick of Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi, and simultaneously reading Granville Austin’s The Indian Constitution: the cornerstone of a nation, the events i was watching take place on screen had been the last words i was reading before i slept every night. You can’t separate Bhaag Milkha Bhaag from whatever you already know of Milkha Singh and of India.


  23. Thanks BR for a fantastic review. This was a movie that I was looking forward to watch a lot because of ROM and I must say we were thoroughly disappointed from it. It was not just the length and all those unnecessary interludes with the “heroines” (who as you brilliantly described) added nothing to the movie.

    And on the detailing front, I found a couple of very obvious mistakes: 1/ Nanha munna rahi hoon is from a 1962 movie and Milkha was mouthing the words in the water queue well before he went to the army (so well before 1956); and 2/ The Lahore stadium was renamed Gaddafi stadium only in the 70s so the Indo-Pak games did not take place there (as the announcer says). These were so obvious that for a moment I thought that ROM put them there to cock a snook at petty guys like me. But thinking back on the movie and particularly after your review, I know what was wrong with the movie.

    And I do not know if this movie in another director’s hands with the same output wd change my opinion much – there were so many anecdotes/ events in the movie that were unnecessary / redundant (ghee drinking scene, the Perizaad scene in the swimming pool, the Australian romance, etc.) that it just made the whole thing so laborious and added nothing to the struggle, the passion that made Milkha one of India’s greatest (if not the greatest) athletes.

    It is sad because both the subject of the biopic and the actor who portrayed it deserve all plaudits that they can get. I must admit I was not a great fan of Farhan Akhtar brand of (under)acting, but in this movie, his physical performance was fantastic – I recalled Russell Crowe in Gladiator, who was similarly brilliant in a role that demanded a lot of physical effort. His performance was just fantastic I thought.

    I am not sure also whether the reaction in India to Milkha’s loss was to burn effigies of him – even if it was, I thought the movie achieved nothing by putting that up – because there was no need for it – if at all, everyone in India seemed to be really rooting for him when he was representing India again after that (even if it was in the Indo-Pak games).


  24. indianmalefeminist: Oh, the film is certainly not “unbearable trash,” and I’m surprised you got that from my review, which I thought conveyed severe disappointment.

    SN: I was puzzled about that “Nanha munna” bit too, but then I figured maybe it was one of those folksy songs that was popular on the streets and in schools (you know, like “Hum honge kaamyaab”) before someone used it in a film. Don’t know…

    I thought the effigy scene was needed because it showed how much of a hole he was in and how big a struggle it must have been for him to come out of it by the end of the film. Had there been a cleaner emotional trajectory, from Rome to Pakistan, I think this scene would have served a powerful purpose.


  25. “Milkha Singh (a hardworking Farhan Akhtar) comes across, simply, as an affable god-fearing bloke – and affable god-fearing blokes are the hardest to put on screen. The very niceness that makes them wonderful to be around is deadly for drama.”

    Great point. You have wonderfully deconstructed your problems with the movie\script . Brilliant review.

    My wtf feeling started with the Australia episode, then when Perizaad ogles and propositions him, I was like, did we sign up for this ? And then the whole tacky episode with the Pakistani coach.

    I had a picture in my mind of Milkha, (the real septuagenarian champion, not the hard working but mediocre actor Farhan), trying to run hard, while being relentlessly followed by the tired tropes all through the movie,. I hope Mikha Singh wins this race.


  26. apology of a review.. I agree this is not a rousing frenzy inducing biopic like “Guru” but still rangan could have found something redeeming in the movie.. it is milkha’s story, the way he wanted to tell, respect that or forget it.. lets not suggest that a Rocky/chsriots of fire or any other damn template would suit it.. and this athelte’s life needed a biopic and not a wikipedia entry cos mr rangan this man’s indian record stood intact for 35 years,, 35 years is a long time for a few generations to shave off a second from a national record.. ROM clearly mentioned that he will show the way milkha wanted to tell, not what you wanted to see.. increasingly mr rangan is going into movies with a lot of set expectations of payoffs and all.. so unlike him


  27. One, I think a larger portion of the blame falls on prasoon joshi’s shoulders… Very stilted lines, and whole swathes of the screenplay should’ve been eliminated. , overall, an incredible disappointment, and you pick the biggest hole right there in paragraph one. Buti wonder whether the glossing over of Rome isn’t an attempt to avoid this becoming a story of sporting, rather than personal redemption….

    Going back to what I said above, cutting out parts of te screenplay in an ‘authorised biopic’ which this very nearly is, is hard, surely? If milkha says biro is important, she is, because its his life, after all. But cinematically, I thought biro was much more disposable than Stella. She serves her purpose, and well. Biro does not.


  28. @BR: That’s the impression I got anyways :) You at least highlight some brilliant or good moments in the film even if you thought it was mostly below average. That and the whole tone of the article really gave the impression that you absolutely loathed the film. Oh well.

    As for the parts, I think their hands may be tied (obviously not in some departments as in non-linear story telling etc.) but the other parts re: storyline – like the god fearing bloke part for eg. – especially since the whole thing had to get approved by Milkha himself first, right? I did totally anticipate that tbh.

    Anyways, seems like people really connected with the movie overall so I guess due credit to them for that :)


  29. “at any moment I thought I’d begin to hear conch shells…”

    lol. After reading this review, I feel that Mehra should have you on his staff, while directing future movies. You seem to know lot more than them ;-)


  30. Its quite clear that the director has done this movie out his reverence for the sportsperson and seems to carry an agenda of glorification. And such a thing is not bad from my POV.

    What with people in the theatre clapping, cheering and rejoicing at Milkha Singh’s injured sprint and Pakistan race wins, the objective has been acheived. And possibly the parts which were “supposed” to evoke deep emotions (and failed to) come together later, as the history required to understand the significance of the final moments, which form the retribution. And hence, those former parts really are not failures.

    My eternal grouse with movies from Hollywood has been they seem to glorify every small thing in American history. With movies like Lincoln, Argo (won Oscar, oh gosh), Zero dark thirty, hogging awards and claiming reputation for what I think is basically the American propaganda, I quite recommend the larger than life picturisation of ‘our’ heroes.

    And I think that is the sentiment, the movie rightly hits at (and probably what Annamalai above has been suggesting). And this is probably the biggest difference between Paan Singh Tomar and BMB.

    The former was a charming movie with realistic perspectives while the latter is celebrating the sports hero. And it was a brilliant feeling when the audience erupted at Milkha’s victory, and you cant but respond in unison.


  31. @Pallavi – brilliant summed up my thoughts right there.
    The makers were aiming for a movie which glorifies Milkha’s achievement, and add a dash of nationalism (or patriotism, whatever you’d like to call that) to top that. Pretty formulaic stuff. I think looking at the WOM and BO performance at large, the audience connected with film. So I would say the makers succeeded in making the film they wanted to make. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing myself, regardless of my critical pov about the flaws of the movie or whatever.

    And not to draw a direct comparison of course – but I personally had plenty of problems with Lagaan as well, from a strictly critical perspective. But the movie managed to connect with me in the end – same with most people I’m guessing :)


  32. Duke: Actually “Guru” is hardly a rousing biopic IMO. I had a big problem with the way he was sanitised there, and I wrote in my review here… : ” And that, to me, was the biggest problem in Guru. I was all for Guru as long as he was using every trick in the book to get ahead… But to say that he did this all for the people, his shareholders — isn’t that a little disingenuous?”

    And considering that Rakeysh Mehra is capable of greatness (as he showed so memorably in “Delhi-6”), expectations are not entirely unwarranted.

    Vk: About the blame falling on Prasoon Joshi, no screenwriter just submits a script and sees it made. He is writing something to service the director’s vision, so I’d say it’s more Mehra’s fault.

    Buti wonder whether the glossing over of Rome isn’t an attempt to avoid this becoming a story of sporting, rather than personal redemption.

    Someone sent me an interesting mail recently, and I quote: “I think Indians are afraid to face tragedy and reflect on it. The Rome Olympic becomes a footnote and the race with Pakistan a trite competition is made central. It just did not add up.”

    About your Biro point, I’m amazed that people are defending this saying that this is the Bollywood way of storytelling, etc. Such a weak and wishy-washy depiction of a relationship is certainly not the “Bollywood way.” When Rajkumar Santoshi made “The Legend of Bhagat Singh,” people said that the romantic angle did not exist in real life. But in the film, it was so nicely done. Plus Santoshi had a genuine vision there, which is to recast Bhagat Singh as the hero of a masala potboiler, and the film carried a thumping emotional charge. Here, even though Biro serves a purpose in shaping Milkha (she is instrumental in his reform, though the film by then is content to show him as a cute guy performing tricks on a cycle, and we barely sense any need for “reform”) — the angle is so weakly handled that she needn’t have existed at all.

    indianmalefeminist: I am not saying that they should show Milkha to be someone he isn’t. If he’s honest and God-fearing, so be it. All I’m saying that when you have such a character, you need to dramatise it well — and IMO that didn’t happen here.

    I would say the makers succeeded in making the film they wanted to make. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing myself, regardless of my critical pov about the flaws of the movie or whatever.

    But that could be said of “Housefull” and “Singham” as well, no? :-)

    Pallavi Bhat: Disagree that we don’t glorify — our cinema is all about glorification/celebration of the hero. That is the nature of commercial cinema. And as I said above, “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” is a great example of one such movie, where an unapologetically loud and melodramatic format was used to bring a distant hero to glorious life.

    PS: As an aside, I think the last time I seemed to have such a severe disconnect with a film everyone loved was when “3 Idiots” happened. Review here.

    PPS: Other biopics I like a lot: “Company,” “Chak De! India.”


  33. From purely cinema POV, the movie is a bit off with that extended biro angle (which was completely redundant, the guy was ‘good’ to start with and joining army was his childhood dream anyway). Apart from that it did pretty well, I think. It was quite clear to me that him winning races before the australian episode was based on sheer guts (and on and off practice). His turnaround to being more of a dedicated and passionate (to the sport) athlete comes from the idea of having disappointed his fellow sportsmen, coach and country.

    And the flashbacks into the childhood work to an extent but is not the hinging point necessarily. For me, it all comes together in the Pakistan visit, where he faces his demons from the past and scores a personal victory and film succeeds in showing how that is valuable (and one need not always be bogged down by international failures; focusing on that aspect would make a completely different movie, much like Paan Singh Tomar).

    In fact the interesting point to wonder about is, if that injured sprint thing actually happened.

    And there are these moments the movie leaves you wondering about. And you read on wikipedia that he actually turns back to look at his fellow racers (in rome olympics) and it cost him crucially and you feel amused about how the movie interprets it and find it quite clever.

    The glorification of hero in Indian Cinema (mass movies and glossy commercial ones) is typically hand waving. One needs to take care to do this in a non ‘in-your-face’ fashion (one can achieve this by giving some grey shades and weaknesses to the protagonist, like they brought in the australia bit to show the fallen hero and there are other methods).

    So, if my comment on ‘glorification’ is read in a non-generic sense, what is conveyed is that the film portrays a graceful celebration of the sportsperson (in a non-loud and non-melodramatic format) and is quite successful in ‘that’ format.

    And even outside the theatre, people are perceiving the amount of work that has gone in (from media bytes, etc) and it creates an aura for the film, which I honestly think is not undeserving. Hopefully it can set off the right minds thinking for future of ‘sports’ (and not just cricket) in the country.


  34. Delhi 6 and greatness? I thought it was pretty messed up film. The protagonist was so diull and dreary one did not care one hoot about what happened to him. I think one strand of what Mehra wanted to achieve in that film has been realised here much better : capturing the simple, droll life of small town folks with their petty needs, small lies, misdemeanors, and indomitable spirit. Of course the more sophisticated form and scripting , showing the not so complimentary aspects of the character ( coal thieving and one-night stands are not what we adorn our heroes. case in point: Legend of Bhagat Singh.) Legend of Bhagat Singh is boring and unexciting precisely because it shows the Bhgat Singh that we have studied in history books and come to expect, no human dimension is explored or revealed. The fact that the love episode with Sonam is not dove-tailed into his athletic character is what makes it more believable and life-like. Not all dots in life join to make the big picture the world knows you by.


  35. Can’t see how ‘Lincoln’ is “propaganda.” If anything, it’s a remarkably down-to-earth, humanized portrayal of Lincoln, and his effort in achieving something that’s momentous in every sense of the word.


  36. @Pallavi Bhat, I have a theory as to why it seems as though everything is glorified in American movies. It’s the same reason why every historical monument in the US is hyped as the greatest ever. There’s only a little more than 200 years of history to mine whereas we have over 5000 years to fall back on. That’s also the reason why every precious moment and happening is treasured (sometimes to our puzzlement!) and things may seem glorified while we do nothing to either take care of our monuments or our raw film footage!


  37. @ brangan, I haven’t seen Bhaag Milkha Bhaag yet; but was struck by this line in your comment above “” I think the last time I seemed to have such a severe disconnect with a film everyone loved was when “3 Idiots” happened””.

    Not everyone loved 3 idiots, you might be glad to know. I found it quite mediocre, the delivery scene in the hostel was completely cringe worthy. Also, I found the Chatur Ramalingam character an over the top, ridiculous caricature. I know several others, who also found the movie middling at best.

    Reactions to any movie are bound to differ I guess, depending on the viewers’ perceptions, affinity or antipathy to the leads, or as simple a thing, as state of mind at the time of watching the film in question.

    Speaking of perception, I’m looking forward to your elaboration on a point you made recently, that you found the stereotyping in Mr & Mrs Iyer galling. Now that’s a movie I found well made, all things considered. :-) So curious to know what you found objectionable.


  38. @BR – sorry I’m not sure where my comment went. Probably an issue on my end. Will write it again I suppose :)

    “But that could be said of “Housefull” and “Singham” as well, no?”

    Well not exactly equivalent – I might’ve not put it well myself. The difference between Singham and BMB is that, people are going to watch Singham or Housefull, if it isn’t horribly boring. And you hear them come out by either saying “crap” or “time pass” – that’s all what they expect from those.

    However the difference with Lagaan, BMB etc. is that it REQUIRES audience to make an emotional connect with the movie. Either it does or it fails. There’s no two ways about it. The climax builds up to the point where you have to cheer for the village or Milkha for the movie to succeed. Which is where the difference lies IMO. Although I don’t give a toss about IMDB ratings, neither do I think it’s indicative of quality of the film – it does kinda reflect the point I’m making regarding the emotional connect part – if you know what I mean.

    3 Idiots was much more “safer” in that aspect being a comedy, but yeah I wasn’t as fond of the movie myself despite laughing at some of the scenes. So I get what you mean. Still, it managed to “click” for most of the audience – can’t deny that :)


  39. Thanks for the review. I haven’t seen it yet, when I saw it was three hours long, I decided to watch “The Heat” instead :) In any case, you cannot expect the unexpected from Rakesh Mehra. Plus he would have wanted to make box-office safe film. The choice of SEL to compose the music is also an indication that he wasn’t really out to experiment. The 3-idiots lovers can go ahead and savor more of what they like to wallow in: Bullshit.


  40. “The choice of SEL to compose the music is also an indication that he wasn’t really out to experiment. “

    Hmm, why’s that? I think SEL is very capable of producing good offbeat stuff. Chittagong for instance was a fine album. D-Day had a fine few songs too. It’s not as if they’re commercially “safe” MDs like Pritam or Himesh (whom I loathe, but he is bankable with a huge passionate cult following)

    And I thought the soundtrack was very good actually, overall (don’t know how well it’s used in the movie though). And I think the choice was more because SEL and Mehra were personal friends rather.

    And regarding 3 Idiots lovers – I’m not one, but is there really any need for such condescension? What, people can’t enjoy a flawed or even caricatureish, but fun movie and at the same time appreciate quality films?


  41. Jai: “Not everyone loved 3 idiots, “ Not everyone loved Citizen Cane, either. Or Pather Panchali. There is no film on earth which ‘ everyone’ loved. What BR is trying to say is that Bhag Milkha Singh and 3 Idiots earlier connected with a vast number of viewers but the films left him cold. And he is not talking box office numbers, or some film like Ek That Tiger or Bodyguard which made a lot of money but no one liked particularly. These films were LIIKED. 3 Idiots has a rating of 8.3 on IMDB , rtaed by more than 75,000! Bhag Milkha has arating of 8.7 rated by more than 7,000. This is the audience that visits imdb and cares enough to rtae a film on it.

    I have an explanation for this disconnect. It follows from the difference in the ways a critic and a normal audience view a film. The critic is looking for interesting things he can write about. The audience is just trying to be engaged. you will never read a critic saying he cried in a film. But normal people do cry in a film. That experience, that emotional connect is denied to a critic, by the very distanciation provess writing reviews involves.

    The revrese works for films like Raavan , Delhi 6 or Saawariya. . There are interesting experimentation happening to impress the critic. But not enough flesh and blood connection to engage an audience.


  42. @Utkal Mohanty–Yes, I completely agree with you that there isn’t any movie that EVERYONE loved. That’s what I mentioned in my post, that reactions are bound to vary, based on what each filmgoer’s perception is. In fact, forget an entire film, a single scene or line of dialogue could be interpreted very differently by different people, yes?

    On the second part of your comment, though, I don’t quite agree. You said “”you will never read a critic saying he cried in a film.”” But that’s just it, I have! I believe BR himself, in his review of Band Baaja Baarat, had mentioned how the climax scene moved him tremendously and brought a tear to his eye…And it’s not just BR, many other critics, too, mention if they have been really touched by a movie or a particular scene…

    I have a different take from yours. I don’t really feel anyone watching a movie (whether critic or normal viewer) can honestly claim to be emotionally disconnected or distanced from it. However much one could try to objectively analyze a film, at the bottom of it, there would be their gut reaction, which is subjective and from an emotional level.

    Coming back to the example of 3 idiots, of course the film was liked by a majority of viewers. No doubts there. However, those who found it lacking, were not necessarily film critics, or disconnected from the film emotionally. For example, I found certain aspects of the film annoying for the factors I mentioned. In that sense, I was as much emotionally engaged with the movie as anyone who liked it–the only difference being, that the movie didn’t appeal to me!


  43. indianmalefeminist, I enjoyed 3 Idiots when I watched it the first time, right up until the baby was delivered using an ingenious suction pump (whatever it was). It was downhill from there on really, but overall it was good time pass fun, with all the over the top stuff you expect from it. But once was enough – every time I caught it on TV, I wanted to puke. And yet people couldn’t get enough of it. Condescension is entirely justified sometimes, even accounting for tastes.

    As regards SEL, well I will check out Chittagong, but they have not been at the top of their game and not delivered anything outstanding in recent times. ZNMD was bland (there was may be one song that was okay). That tomatina song really was horrible. I may be missing a few here, but Luck by Chance was good, not sure post that.


  44. Yeah that was probably a bit stretched – the makers could argue that it was perfectly plausible and everything. But what’s worse is how the characters are way too caricature-ish (especially the dean) and Aamir’s over the top acting to top all that. My point though, is that some people don’t mind it – they probably find it funny enough to see past the flaws and enjoy the movie – fair play to them. I personally can’t, and you find it tripe now, which is fair too.

    As for SEL, they’ve had a rough patch, I agree. I thought ZNMD soundtrack was alright, and they haven’t done many films post that anyways – the only film that had scope for any music was Chittagong and that was really good (IMO anyways). And Vishwaroopam was fine too (Unnai Kaanadhu was stand out).


  45. I thought the delivery scene in 3 Idiots showed Hirani and Abhijat Joshi at their imaginative best. He ahd set up Rancho as the character who believed that knowledge was to be acquired for the way you can use it in real-world situations. Now if you asked an average writer to create a situation to demonstrate this at some point in the script, not one could have come up with this. The beauty of the device , in keeping with the tone of the film throughout, is absurd in the extreme and yet scientifically totally sound. A vacuum device is a perfect mechanism for a forced delivery, as is the use ofa battery at the time of power outage. But Hirani’s genius goes beyond this. Through this episode he reveals another facet of Rancho’s character. So far we have seen him bonding with his male friends. Here we see his feminine side. What can be more feminine and sexy than being involved in a childbirth? And what could melt the heart of a stony Virus and soften him towards Rancho better than hiom being instrumental in bringing his grandson to the world. Much of the scene is played out in high seriousness, but the mawkish sentimentality of the finale is offset with another note, the baby responding to ‘ All izz well’. Brilliant! All through the film , there is such intricately thought out writing which only the very perceptive can discern. Critics will miss the emotional film like 3 Idiots but open-hearted viewers will not. The universality of the film is what connects it to audiences from remote towns in UP and Bihar to China and Japan, from Jackie Chan and
    Steven Spielberg.

    Five movies Spielberg connects with

    E.T. The Extra Terrestrial: A search for the father in myself, as well as a catharsis film for me after my parents’ divorce.
    Saving Private Ryan: A homage to my dad.
    3 Idiots: I’ve seen it three times, loved the emotional undertones.
    Jaws: The hardest movie I ever made in my career. I wanted to give up movie making after that.
    The Godfather: Nobody could have directed this movie better than Francis Ford Coppola.


    Citing 2009 comedy blockbuster hit 3 Idiots, starring actor Aamir Khan, as one of his favorite Bollywood films, Chan said, “I loved the music of 3 Idiots. I think Indian films have the best choreography in the world. So many good Bollywood entertainers were never really introduced to the world. I feel not enough global promotion is done for your film


    I wonder who should be condescending towards whom!


  46. @ Utkal–Dude, Firstly my sincere compliments on your very spirited defense of 3 idiots, I get that you loved the movie. However, here’s the rub..no matter how much you would rationalize certain scenes in the movie (like the hostel delivery scene) which did not appeal to certain viewers, I frankly feel the debate could go on to kingdom come, and neither side would have convinced the other.

    I think the reason for this difference, lies in interpretation. Whatever you have written in your comment above, while compelling, is how you interpreted that scene. Another viewer could, and indeed several did, interpret that scene differently. I am not saying you are wrong, however the opinion contrary to yours has several points going for it as well.

    One thing though–don’t you think stating “”there is such intricately thought out writing which only the very perceptive can discern. Critics will miss the emotional film like 3 Idiots but open-hearted viewers will not””” is taking things a bit far. So are you implying that those who did not like the movie as much as you did, are therefore 1) Not perceptive, 2) Not open hearted?

    If you did not imply that, then sorry, my bad.

    If you did, then how about this: Take the scene where Rancho substitutes Chatur’s speech for that function they have at the institute, knowing very well that the chap does not know hindi well, and is bound to make an ass of himself. Of course, as expected, Chatur goes and humiliates himself in public, much to the amusement of Rancho and his pals.

    Now, I found this action, and the scene itself, in very poor taste. Just because a character is irritating, doesn’t mean the main lead has a license to publicly shame him, exploiting his weakness? I could say, could I not, that it is precisely because I am ‘open hearted’, that I am willing to consider how this fictional character Chatur, could have felt?

    And please don’t tell me Hirani and Abhijat wanted to show Rancho’s grey side through this, the entire scene was structured as a laugh riot to laugh AT the character being mocked, not to sympathize with him.

    Later, when an angry and sloshed Chatur confronts Rancho & gang, as far as I recall, Rancho makes some silly comment on the lines that Chatur is taking the matter too seriously!! Very perceptive of Rancho, I must say–the other guy just got the worst humiliation of his life owing to Racho’s unkind act, but he feels it shouldn’t be taken seriously?

    Yes, I do agree with Mr Spielberg, 3 idiots has many emotional undertones. Just that several of those undertones struck a sour note for me, and therefore the film as a whole did not click for me. Its perfectly fine that the same emotional undertones worked for others–that’s what individual opinion and perception is all about–which is one point we agree on, I think, that there’s no movie in the world which can claim to appeal to everyone.

    So in toto–let’s agree to disagree! :-)


  47. An apt and a genuine review unlike those posted in praise of the film just for the sake of it bogged down by the reputation of the actors and the director. Every single word in the review is exactly the reaction and feeling most audiences would have gone through while watching the film. Bharadwaj Rangan has packaged those reactions with the right words so beautifully and appropriately.The movie is no masterpiece though the original plot did have the right elements for a potential masterpiece.


  48. Excellent review, I felt Paan Singh Tomar was a much better movie.It was better made. Milkha singh’s story had a good deal of potential but it disappointing.it lacked the brilliance in movie making and acting ,that i saw in Paan singh tomar.Its greatly overhyped.


  49. (I had a hard time remembering who this old friend was..

    Yeah.. I was like, ” Who is this guy again?” Um, yeah.. Oh that guy from… uh.. that fatty. from…Whoa.. Looks like that guy chose to stay in Pakistan? That is a teary re-union indeed… Imagine this happened in real life”…

    Liked the film. Too many songs..Blah.. And one thing I was missing was A R Rahman’s background score. That would have made me cry for sure.


  50. Brother, did you watch the movie after having faught with someone? In your desperate effort to be a harsh critic, you’ve forgotten multiple positives that came out of this feature film.

    First, it’s a biopic of a forgotten hero, that too of a sport that hardly receives any appreciation in India. Even then the makers could make a fantastic movie out of it.

    You had an issue with the screenplay as well. You mean we should have had back to back races in the last half hour? Also, you would want it to be revealed right at the start of the movie what the title truly means . Right?

    You said you didn’t feel anything when he won or lost matches. I have no clue why.

    Dude, try making a 30sec film and you’ll know a bit of what it takes. Sitting back and being critical is very easy and good luck with your easy job !


  51. I haven’t watched the film but….Milkha Singh a forgotten hero, who knew. Yeah, I guess we do live in Tendulkar land so what is ‘forgotten’ is relative.


  52. terrible review. its a movie, not a math equation which has to be perfect at each step. go on criticizing works like this and you’re sure to be thrashed someday


  53. Terrible review, BGB is one of the best movies of recent times. I write reviews too, understand cinema better than this guy and I would make a movie someday.

    This guy whoever he is a “Look guys I am different” kind of wannabe. Please do not miss this, because of morons like these!


  54. Everybody has the right to express their opinion. If you did not like his opinion, then please don’t come here to say that he is wrong.


  55. A honest review indeed, I agree with all of it, I’d also like to add that many words seem unrealistic of the times they portrayed, it didn’t feel like 1960s on certain occasions, for me little Milka was the real hero. Unfortunately Farhan’s voice couldn’t do the justice being so unlike Punjabi voice, which actually is the main essence, main focus of all Punjabis. Especially when we already watched an epic movie like Paan Singh Tomar, the expectations certainly rise up. The movie had been better if the focus wasn’t Farhan’s six packs!


  56. Dude, try making a 30sec film and you’ll know a bit of what it takes.

    Dude, seriously? Now you have to be a filmmaker to criticize any film? So then what’s the point of reviews at all? Lets all sit down and laud movies since most of us are incapable of making a film. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his criticism, but this is just lame. Why do people keep repeating this ridiculous “try making a film” crap?


  57. Over talked over written review. After all is said and done he is still saying it like conversation at the end of an idea. It’s just a badly edited sports epic that seems incoherent in Ragan’s review and not on screen.


  58. In a country like ours, where hero-worship has been turned into a fine art, it is very difficult to make a bio-pic, because criticism of the film is invariably taken as being directed to the subject. Most of the commentators (is that the right term?) here have mostly taken umbrage at Brangan’s review because they seem to see it as an affront to the legend of Milka Singh, as opposed to a critique of the movie itself. Makes me wonder what would have happened if Mani Ratnam had made Iruvar as a Bio-pic as opposed to a fictional re-imagining of real life.


  59. I don’t know why, but I feel you’re probably being a bit too critical! You’d probably not get much of the struggles he faced, we won’t either. But as far as I know, the killing of his family touched most of us. You think men didn’t sleep with women in the 1950s? Well, that’s your opinion.

    Farhan Akhtar acted so well, and so did the rest!

    This movie was inspirational! It got me to think about a lot, about religion and how it divides us, about the partition, and about how hard it is to stay focused.

    I’m an athlete too! Well, not a professional one. I stopped running and after watching this movie i felt like starting again. This movie taught me not to look back and NEVER to give up.

    Yeah, I’m just 15. But guys, think about this. If this movie got people to think, if it inspired people then it’s good. We just have different opinions. Just don’t be so harsh.

    I loved the movie and i feel his life is special, the movie was worth it!


  60. A great review….. one hour movie time w’d have been great…. minus all songs…minus the kiss scene and A BIG MINUS sex scene btw milkha’s sister and his husband.. it was truly pathetic and uncomfortable for kids specially.


  61. “A BIG MINUS sex scene btw milkha’s sister and his husband.. it was truly pathetic and uncomfortable for kids specially.”

    Sex scene? What the frap? It was a rape scene and the portrayal of marital rape is one of the things I actually appreciated in the film. I can’t think of many movies (as in mainstream ones) which did a decent portrayal of marital rape, which has been constantly ignored and overlooked imo.


  62. “Sex scene? What the frap? It was a rape scene and the portrayal of marital rape is one of the things I actually appreciated in the film”.

    rape is the appropriate word. But for sure it was not the requirement of the movie.


  63. Mr baradwaj,

    seems like you haven’t played a single sport throughout your life… …this movie depicts the life of a sportsperson in a very realistic way….. as previously said by Mr anamalai…yes, ‘your review is an unemotional one.

    go get a life mr baradwaj….stop waisting your time on writing reviews…. if its so easy to direct a movie…you should try one!! I can guarantee for sure it’ll be a super duper flop… :)


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