It is a little over a week since Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's ’Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ released to packed houses everywhere. Volumes have been written about the film already. Lots of people have called it an inspiring movie about the life of Milkha Singh while some have complained about the length, while everyone unanimously hails the performance of Farhan Akhtar as Milkha. Now that we are almost done with talking about the movie, let me tell you a secret...
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag isn't a movie about Milkha Singh!
It is a movie about Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Farhan Akhtar having sex with each other!
No, I am not trying to grab your attention by making bizarre statements. I have good reason to say that and here is why...
Let us forget Milkha Singh for a moment and just focus on Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Farhan Akhtar. Let’s dig their past.
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra:
If India Gate is out of bounds today for the common public, you know whom to blame. With one movie, Rang De Basanti, he awakened the nation, especially its youth - to stand up for their rights. In the process he also showed the media how powerful they could be if they wanted to. He very cleverly used history to pitch Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad as metaphors to modern day revolutionaries and succeeded in a big way, the after effects of which we keep seeing often at India Gate and other prominent places in times of crisis as candle light protests and so on.
He followed it up with an even more ambitious cause - taking on religion in Delhi 6. No, that movie wasn't about Delhi; it was all about religious tolerance. He also used the Kala Bandar character which terrorised Delhi sometime ago to highlight his point about the evil residing within us. He is a master at doing this - using metaphors to highlight social causes. He is a true social crusader.
Farhan is synonymous for pushing himself beyond limits. Did you know that he is the director of the convention defying video ‘Breathless’ which propelled Shankar Mahadevan to fame?
His very first movie as a director, Dil Chahta Hai was so different from every movie that released until then that it has now become a landmark film in the history of Indian cinema. He not only reinvented the fashion trends of the time but also went ahead with an unconventional cast and used sync sound which was an extreme rarity at that point of time.
He then went on to not just tinker with the original Don but also reinvent the character played by Amitabh Bachchan in the original. It takes guts to turn a hero into a character with negative shades and he got away with murder, with Shah Rukh Khan being his perfect ally.
He then did the unthinkable by becoming an actor himself and that too as a singing star. No other mainstream Bollywood actor has until then and even after that ever carried off a movie by also singing all the songs themselves. This distinction only belongs to Farhan Akhtar. Since then every role he played has been unique and challenging in some way or the other, be it the schizophrenic lead in Karthik Calling Karthik or the extremely nuanced performances in Luck By Chance and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
He is like that kid who refuses to believe in the concept of no; pushing himself beyond his limits - beyond his comfort zone. That is Farhan Akhtar, the explorer-adventurer.
One must wonder how and why such diverse and intelligent personalities would collaborate to make a movie based on a sportsman. Here is where both of them realise the opportunity to merge their passions into one creative endeavour, with Milkha being the metaphor this time, just as Bhagat Singh and Delhi were in Rakeysh’s earlier movies.
How did they go about this?
They did that by setting up Milkha on a dual journey; one that speaks of Milkha’s past from the partition era, thereby providing the director an opportunity to convey a social message. And the other about Milkha’s determination to succeed as a sportsman - which gives the lead actor an opportunity to excel and push himself beyond his limits as a performer. A match made in heaven.
The director’s part of the movie is all about making Milkha reconcile with his past instead of running away from it while the actor’s part is to race through life notwithstanding the obstacles in his way. A dichotomy of sorts, that's why the film is called Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, instead of just Bhaag Milkha or Milkha Bhaag.
This goes on for almost three hours until the running away and racing ahead culminate in a fitting climax where they run parallel to each other. Remember the young Milkha sprint along with the older Milkha? That is the culmination of what is a 3 hour exercise in running in opposite directions.
The audience can't be blamed for getting restless at times during the movie. Because those are the parts where the director and actor were not making love to each other. However, they cover up spectacularly by the time the movie reaches its climax.
The Director’s Climax
While making relevant social observations throughout the film, the exact point where things start falling in place is when Milkha goes back to Pakistan, to his village, where his entire family is massacred during the partition. His wounds are deep, still fresh, and haunt him in his dreams. The process of reconciliation happens when he gets to meet his childhood friend who survives the massacre as he is sheltered by a kind soul. The words that his friend speaks then act as the final balm on Milkha’s past. He says...
“Log bure nahi hote, haalat bure hote hain. Uss waqt Ke haalat bure the”
“It is not people that are bad, but situations that are bad. At that time, situations were bad!” This one line is probably the whole reason why Rakeysh Mehra made this film in the first place.
It is very apt to our current times too considering the fixation our political parties seem to have towards tragic events from the recent past. Kids are dying in schools today but we spend hours debating secularism and other such outdated stuff. That's a pity. We are running away from real issues wearing the cloak of the past!
Not just politics, we do that in our personal lives too. It is time to stop running away and confront the past and our fears. Only then can we think of racing ahead. That is what the director seems to say and that is what Farhan Akhtar tweeted earlier today too:
Thought for the day: Face your fears before somebody takes advantage of them.
— Farhan Akhtar (@FarOutAkhtar) July 22, 2013
The Actor’s Climax
That brings me to another dialogue from Rakeysh Mehra’s earlier film Rang De Basanti.
“Zindagi jeene ke do hi tarike hote hai ... ek jo ho raha hai hone do, bardaasht karte jao ... ya phir jimmedari uthao use badalneki”
Milkha belongs to the second category. Despite life giving him a raw deal, he fights against all odds to emerge triumphant. He wanders into the wild side but through sheer determination, comes out of it and races ahead. His life is an example, a true inspiration - to not blame the system for all his problems but to realise that he has to be the change that he wants to see.
Milkha’s determination leads to his breaking the world record. And in the scene immediately after the visit to his village, he wins the race in Pakistan in what is a culmination to all his efforts to become a better sportsman. When the Pakistani coach tells Milkha “Yeh aap ki zindagi ki aakhree race saavit ho sakti hai” Milkha replies “Daudunga bhi waise hi”. He is finally a man at peace; doesn't matter even if it is his last race. That is a self assured state one attains only through sheer hard work and determination.
That isn't just Milkha, it is Farhan Akhtar speaking to us. For, he has not just played the character of Milkha but has become Milkha himself in terms of his physical and mental transformation for the role. This is where he derives his mojo, he is zinda in his truest senses!
The final culmination
To top all these comes the scene where Milkha is named the Flying Sikh by none other than the head of Pakistan. This was a fact unknown to me and it would have surely come across as a shock to many others who watched the film too. It provided a glimpse of humanity and hope in an area that we traditionally consider to be a negative space. It is a fitting end to both the journeys of Milkha Singh as well as those of the director and the lead actor.
I have read quite a few reviews and comments about the film being jingoistic and using Pakistan as a bait to add drama. I guess they didn't realise that this film isn't just about Milkha, it is about a cause and purpose greater than the sportsman himself.
Why else do you think Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Farhan Akhtar worked so hard to make this film? They aren’t your ordinary filmmaker and actor going by their body of work; in Milkha they found the perfect metaphor to push their agendas forward.
Rakeysh and Farhan constitute the two bhaags of the movie with Milkha being bang in the middle
It is Bhaag Milkha Bhaag indeed!