The news of Milkha Singh’s death came late on Friday, 18 June, which pushed the country into a state of mourning. Flying Sikh succumbed to COVID19, days after his wife, former Indian volleyball captain, Nirmal Milkha Singh, succumbed to the same disease. Milkha Singh, one of India’s early leading track and field sprinters, was emulated on the big screen by actor-producer-director-writer Farhan Akhtar in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The film was the official biopic of the famous runner. Farhan took to social media to condole the veteran’s demise. On the other hand, Rakesh did not respond till early morning today. However, speaking about the biopic and his interactions with Milkha Singh, Rakesh had said, “Biopic is a label you put on a film for the collective subconscious of the nation. I spent years doing research. The life of Milkha Singh and the Partition of India blended very beautifully into the story of his life. I spent time understanding that period very well and the way a man made great efforts to come out of the shadow of his turbulent past. I stayed with Milkha Singh for seven days when I went there only to stay for one day. We talked to him for 6000 hours. Calling a film a biopic sometimes underestimates it because there is so much involved. I did not see Milkha’s story as the beginning, middle and end of his journey as a runner. There were layers that have relevance in our modern history – ethnic violence, division, the effects on our relationships with the people on the other side of the fence. BMB did a great job at the box office, but I know how much I struggled to find actors to play Milkha and his sister. I was told that the film might not be enough to recover its budget as it was not the traditional story of the time – I was not focusing on the most popular game in the subcontinent. It was heartbreaking but I decided to move on. Logically, I think it makes business sense for people today to make biopics on sports statistics from various sports. But for a sports biopic to work, you need actors or stars who can become the characters they play and a story that goes beyond persuading an individual. Talking about choosing Farhan to play the role of Milkha Singh, Rakesh told us, “For me, he was always a complete actor. Yes, as an actor, there are roles that are made for you and some that may not be for you. But a good actor can get under the skin of any character. I had full faith in Farhan when we cast him for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Deep down, my instincts told me that he would elevate the role and elevate it further. I was comfortable with that idea. I simply said that he would do a good job. It was revealed that he did not play the role of Milkha Singh, Farhan Akhtar became Milkha Singh.
- Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra on Milkha Singh
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