Film: Budhia Singh-Born to Run

Director: Soumendra Padhi

Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Mayur Mahendra Patole, Tillotama Shome, Shruti Marathe, Gajraj Rao

Rating: ***

Biopics aren’t exactly new to Bollywood. From Dawood to Dhoni to Dhirubhai, there have been plenty of achievers (cough, cough) who have been paid the ultimate homage on the silver screen.

Soumendra Padhi&’s latest offering is pretty much into uncharted territory, and that is what makes this film divergent from the rest. The debutant director keeps things crisp for most of the hour and 52 minute showing.

Budhia Singh, for those who cannot recall, was by a freak of nature, blessed with extraordinary stamina despite being barely able to tie shoelaces. By the age of five, he had run over 40 marathons, and in a country not exactly known for its athletes, that is truly box-office stuff.

To fully understand the movie, an elementary knowledge of long-distance running is necessary.

A marathon is a race that is run on open roads, and spans a distance of 42.1 km. A half-marathon is exactly half at 21.09 km. And most marathons have a minimum age which ranges between 16-18. The basic idea is to deter any prodigies from burning out too soon in their running careers.

That is the crux of the whole movie, as Judo instructor Biranchi Das, played by Manoj Bajpayee, happens upon a one in a billion talent that is Budhia Singh (played by Mayur Mahendra Patole).

For the most part, Biranchi is shown in a positive light, selflessly running a residential academy in his humble house in Odisha for no real gain other than promoting sports in the country.

Bajpayee&’s character starts to change after coming in contact with the talented but very much raw Budhia, and any sensible viewer will be able to ascertain that the coach is making the most of his moment under the sun.

As the records stumble, the media attention (read scrutiny) intensifies, as authorities are forced to sit up and take notice. 

While the tale is bordering on fantastical, for the most part, it is true. People living in sprawling metropolises may not realise, but out in the boondox, a contrasting world exists. With basic necessities like roti, kapda makaan (food, clothing, shelter) unavailable to many.

A cycle or even a hot meal is still in many underdeveloped parts of the nation, a dangling carrot for which many will run themselves into the ground.

The major flaw in the movie is the fact that Biranchi gets a little too much screen time, and the titular character, Budhia Singh, not quite enough. In a regular movie, that would be fine, considering Bajpayee&’s inimitable repertoire but here, it doesn’t quite feel right.

The supporting cast acquit themselves well, but the experienced Gajraj Rao (of Black Friday, Talvar frame) as the bumbling bureaucrat is the standout performer of the lot. The music score is distinctly average, failing to really inspire despite Budhia ripping up the record books each time his little feet take flight.

A particular scene in the film gets a little out of hand, as Biranchi proudly proclaims “Budhia will be the first marathon runner from India to qualify for the Olympics.” That statement is insulting for anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of the athletics scene in India. 

The late, great Shivnath Singh ran the marathon for India at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, and that too barefoot! To discredit such a legend by omission is truly an incorrigible offence and does leave a bad taste in one&’s mouth.

Speaking of the Olympics, it is no coincidence that the movie releases the day the quadrennial sporting extravaganza begins in Rio. While it may have been marketed as an inspirational film, it has some very typical elements which prevent it from truly taking flight.

Overall, a fairly decent watch, and not just for the bachelors who love their sports, but a family entertainer, albeit of a different kind.