News Column

Milkha Singh, the Running Man

July 9, 2013

Khaleej Times

Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt may acquire trophies and break records for fun, but before the Jamaican sprinter achieved greatness there was another, some would say more resonant, name to be reckoned with. While Tommie Smith's Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games focused the world's attention on the American Civil Rights Movement, in India around the same era, Milkha Singh symbolised the rise of a prospering newly independent nation.

Taking a gold in the 400m dash at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, this achievement was the pinnacle of a career forged out of adversity; Milkha having witnessed the brutal murder of his family members during partition. Going on to represent his country at two Olympic meets and an Asian Games, the now 77-year old athlete remains an inspiration to India's sporting fraternity.

Opening in UAE theatres on Thursday is , an in-depth biopic starring Farhan Akhtar and Sonam Kapoor. Here, we speak to Farhan about the movie.

What made you take on the part of Milkha Singh?

He's an icon, possibly the biggest international Indian icon we have had. Every sports person knows of him. Most are aware of his achievements, but many don't know of his history. The journey of his life is incredible. If we can get his story out there into the public's consciousness and entertain them, then that is our job done.

Did you get the opportunity to meet with him?

We had about four meetings. He spoke to me a lot about his training regime. He is an extremely honest and generous person. His experiences are quite harrowing, but it I had to listen to imagine how he was feeling at the time. To have access to the person made my job a lot easier. I want to be authentic with his body language, but I don't want to do a simple imitation of the man.

Is it daunting knowing the person you're playing is going to see the movie?

Early on it was. When I realised the enormity of the task, I did have the thought that I may not match up to him. As I became more comfortable in the role, however, I realised I have a responsibility to him and I am capable of fulfilling that responsibility. He was very trusting of me and happy I got the part.

What was the physical preparation for the movie like?

It was six months training before the first day of shooting. I had to increase overall mass to look muscular. Then there was the track and field training for it to look authentic. I still can't believe how much running I did. Shooting for nine hours a day means there's a lot of running to be done.

Do you think you could have made it as an athlete?

It's a lifestyle and commitment. I feel I could have possibly done it in my youth, but the sacrifices are too much. I'm an actor. I like that I got a glimpse of what it was like, but it's nice to get back to normal.

What was it like working with Sonam?

She's a fine actor. Most importantly her professionalism was the key. We had a good relationship on set, which made the romantic aspect of the film easy to complete. It was nice after a long day running and weightlifting to do a lighter scene with her.

In Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Sonam Kapoor plays Nirmal Kaur, former captain of the Indian Women Volleyball team, whom Milkha met and married when they were both competing.

The response for your latest film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has been great, how do you feel?

I feel great actually, I'm really proud to be a part of this film. I love working with Rakeysh Mehra (director), so to be a part of Milkha is amazing because it's such an inspirational story, and the inspiration for Milkha is my character, so I think it's beautiful being a part of the story.

Why did you decide to do Bhaag Milkha Bhaag? Can you tell us a little bit about your role?

For me the reason I did Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was because it was an outstanding script, I wanted to work with Farhan Akhtar, I wanted to again work with Rakeysh Mehra and I could understand why Mehra wanted me. My role is a pivotal role, it's not the biggest role in the film at all but if this role isn't played right the film doesn't work, although the film is about Milkha not about Milkha's love interest.

You were reportedly paid the relatively small sum (for a movie) of 11 crore for your role in the film, what led you to make this decision?

They had a budget and they told me they can't give money and that's it. I love Rakeysh. For me he is somebody who gave me lot of confidence and helped me open up. I went through a bad patch after Saawariya. When I went on the sets of Delhi 6 he made me feel beautiful and made me feel talented. I was a young kid and wasn't confident about who I am and he gave me the confidence and I will always be grateful for that. I did Bhaag Milkha Bhaag for Rakeysh. Even if he asked me to walk backwards in the frame I would do it.

It seems you appeared teary eyed at the promo of the film, how you were feeling at that moment?

The promo shows the blood, sweat and toil of everyone who has worked on the film. This is why I started crying. You guys have seen the trailer and you must have understood the kind of work we have done in the film. david@khaleejtimes.com

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Milkha's achievements

Known as The Flying Sikh, Milkha won a gold medal in the 1958 Commonwealth Games for the 400m, a gold in the same year for the 200m at the Asian Games, fourth place in the 400m in the 1960 Olympics, a gold medal for the 200m in the 1962 Asian games and went to the 1964 Olympics. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1958.

Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and wife arrive for the London screening of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

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Sonam on a high

In Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Sonam Kapoor plays Nirmal Kaur, former captain of the Indian Women's Volleyball team, whom Milkha met and married when they were both competing.

The response for your latest film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has been great, how do you feel?

I feel great actually, I'm really proud to be a part of this film. I love working with Rakeysh Mehra (director), so to be a part of Milkha is amazing because it's such an inspirational story, and the inspiration for Milkha is my character, so I think it's beautiful being a part of the story.

Why did you decide to do Bhaag Milkha Bhaag? Can you tell us a little bit about your role?

For me the reason I did Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was because it was an outstanding script, I wanted to work with Farhan Akhtar, I wanted to again work with Rakeysh and I could understand why he wanted me.

My role is a pivotal one, it's not the biggest role in the film at all but if this role isn't played right the film doesn't work, although the film is about Milkha not about Milkha's love interest.

You were report-edly paid the relatively small sum (for a movie) of 11 crore for your role in the film, what led you to make this deci-sion?

They had a budget and they told me they can't give money and that's it. I love Rakeysh. For me he is somebody who gave me lot of confi-dence and helped me open up. I went through a bad patch after Saawariya. When I went on the sets of Delhi 6 he made me feel beautiful and made me feel talented. I was a young kid and wasn't confident about who I am and he gave me the confidence and I will always be grateful for that. I did Bhaag Milkha Bhaag for Rakeysh. Even if he asked me to walk back-wards in the frame I would do it.

It seems you appeared teary eyed at the promo of the film, how you were feeling at that moment?

The promo shows the blood, sweat and toil of everyone who has worked on the film. This is why I started crying. You guys have seen the trailer and you must have understood the kind of work we have done in the film.

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Farhan to host mini marathon

Farhan Akhtar will give a chance to his fans to run along with him in a mini marathon he will organise ahead of the release of his movie.

The 3km-5km marathon will be hosted in four cities -- Delhi, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.

"The curiosity to see Farhan running a marathon is at its highest. He has been able to transcend boundaries and has become the Milkha Singh of celluloid," a spokesperson from Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, the film's producer, said in a statement.

The actor went through rigorous physical training in order to get the perfect body like that of an athlete and fans are eager to watch the actor run live.

"Ever since the promotions started, everyone has been asking Farhan about the practice that went into playing the role of Milkha Singh. That's why the makers have decided to give the audiences a chance to watch him run a marathon and participate with him," a source said.

"Many school and college students will be running with Farhan. They were selected via contests held by the makers recently," the source added.

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(c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

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