Budhia Singh has been the youngest marathon runner in the country, having run at the age of 4. He ran a number of marathons before the most famous one in which he ran from Puri to Bhubaneswar in under 8 hours. He was a sensation in the national and international media in 2006 when the report of his marathon made news. I had started preparing for my law entrance exams then, and remember preparing a short note about Budhia. However, like many other things that have faded from public memory, like the mass murders of innocent civilians by Khalistani terrorists before and after the riots in 1984, terrorist attacks by Catholic fanatics in the Olympic Games in 1996, how the dawn of a new millennium was wrongly celebrated by many globally at the beginning rather than the end of 2000, the Mandal-2 agitations against Arjun Singh’s OBC reservation proposal in 2006, the anti-Christian violence by Hindu extremists in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2007 and again in 2008, the serial blasts by the Indian Mujahidin with that outfit announcing its existence in 2008 (predating the 26/11 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani terrorists), the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2011 (after which Subramanian Swamy wrote his controversial article on disenfranchising people based on the non-acknowledgement of certain ancestry), the heroic killing of terrorists by a Jammuite Muslim girl Ruksana in 2009, and the way Rahul Gandhi, far from being seen as a pappu, was largely believed to be an intelligent and charismatic leader credited for the Congress victory in the national elections in 2009, Budhia’s tale, despite the media attention it attracted then, is now largely forgotten, but has been brought back in public memory by the excellent film Budhia Singh – Born to Run.
A lot of political drama was stirred around the two figures, Budhia Singh and his controversial coach, Biranchi Das. Biranchi’s murder by Raja Acharya in 2008 had also led to speculations of a relationship existing between Budhia and the murder and the film, in this respect, has kept its position as ambiguous. Yet, it does not remove the cloud over the whole Budhia episode, which culminated in Budhia being admitted to the Kalinga Stadium hostel, where he trains as a runner, but seems to have lost his potential as an ace athlete. The main reason, although quite vague in its formulations in the popular media, is the nature of the training. He was being prepared for the marathon, but in the sports stadium, he is trained for 100 m. and 200 m. races, which perhaps does not suit his style. Now much older, the bizarre ban on his running marathon races is still in vogue.
The film centres on the relationship between the coach and the athlete, who became the world’s youngest marathon runner at the age of four. His name was inducted in the Limca Book of Records. Considering the effort that debutant Soumendra Padhi has taken to find the actor for this movie, it tells a lot about the effort that has been put in by the director. There are some scenes in the movie, which clearly show that there was a lot of nuance that was added by the director in addition to the very good performances by the main primary actors. The interactions between the coach and the athlete have been handled with utmost precision. The human element of the relationship, the tension that exists between the good and evil sides of a person’s character have been explored very well in the film.
Manoj Bajpayee as Biranchi delivers a stellar performance as a commiyyed judo coach and social worker who sees the spark in tiny Budhia and takes the initiative to hone his running talent, coming to love Budhia as his own child. He has brought out the two sides of Biranchi’s character too well and the chemistry with Budhia played by child-artist Patole is absolutely apt. His fiery temperament, which leads to his brawls, often with the locals, is a permanent mark of his character. It is very clear from the depiction of the character by Bajpayee that he has perceived Biranchi to be a fighter and a winner. His manipulation of the local politics that he seems to know too well, is another point in the film where Bajpayee has done so well. Biranchi does love the child, for whom he also abandons his family, but there is a subtle suggestion in the movie that he might be thinking about his own interests more than the child’s. This does not take away from the fact that he wanted passionately that Budhia takes part in the 2016 Olympics. The exploitation of the political situation and the subsequent exploitation by the authorities who do not like Biranchi’s rise, makes this not only a emotional drama and human relationship, but also a study of the textbook case corruption in India, that makes the political class ever-ready for defending its own position. Here perhaps the film loses nuance to a little extent in showing the political people to be villains without qualification. It is to the credit of Bajpayee that he brings out so many aspects of the character of Biranchi. There is also a scene where he cries in solitude upon his separation from Budhia.
The other characters in the movie are also depicted very well, especially Biranchi’s wife, Gita, played by Shruti Marathe. She is a supportive wife but with the very natural concern for her husband’s obsession with Budhia, which leads him to neglect not only other children that he trains, but also his wife and his own child. The pain of this neglect, however is never vented out through antipathy towards Budhia himself. She is shown to be concerned with the welfare of both Budhia and her husband. Tilottoma Shome as Budhia’s mother is at times helpless and at times conniving with Biranchi’s detractors, including her new husband. The character of Budhia’s mother, has not been delved into deeply by Padhi.
The Oriya cultural climate comprising the worship of Lord Jagannath is well employed. The music in the film is well-used with the drama of the marathon running being captured really well. Music directors Siddhant Mathur and Ishan Chhabra have good prospects for the future. The camera work by Manoj Kumar Khatoi also helps to capture the drama, which ranges from the running scenes to the very somber and quiet ones bringing out the complexity of the characters. The film had very rightly been given the National Award, earlier in 2016, under the title ‘Duronto’, and is definitely worth two hours of our lives!
(I would like to thank my friend Suvankur Sukul for his inputs.)
A good movie indeed! Would give it 7/10.