As the Odisha reporter for a national daily, Prabuddha Jagadeb watched the drama unfold live as prodigy Budhia Singh became a marathon runner at the age of four. He reviews the film Budhia Singh: Born to Run from his unique perspective.
“Go watch the movie, you’re in it!” When a friend called me from my hometown and suggested this, I couldn’t resist watching ‘’Born to Run” in the theatre. No doubt it brought a flood of nostalgia—as correspondent of a leading English daily during the early days of my fledgling career, I had witnessed many of the events revolving in the story firsthand. So if a concerned, pestering journo crops up in several frames, possibly those in the know couldn’t term it a chance co-incidence.
Watching Soumendra Padhi’s directorial debut based on the life of child prodigy runner Budhia Singh, brought along a sense of déjà vu. Nonetheless, this biopic has been true to its spirit and has brought out the yearnings for freedom and fame in a socially and economically deprived child quite nicely.
As I said, Budhia’s is a real world tale. His spectacular rise to fame a decade ago was single-handedly due to his judo coach Biranchi Singh. The first part of the film deals with the abject poverty of Budhia’s family—his widowed mother’s struggle to make ends meet, his early life in an urban slum, the slum dwellers’ fight not to get evicted. Biranchi, all through this, shines as the messiah of the deprived and illiterate slum dwellers, even rescuing the helpless Budhia from the torture of a moneylender, who has employed Budhia.
Manoj Bajpayee’s performance as judo coach Biranchi Singh is fantastic. His research into the character and his mannerisms are quite in-depth and he translates them onscreen beautifully. Mayur, the child artiste, who was chosen amongst 1000 candidates for Budhia’s role, displays his athleticism and emotions to a fair extent. In some characters, like the Child Welfare Minister and officer, the resemblance is quite jarring, and have been essayed to a ‘T’. Rituraj Mohanty’s song Tu Daud Daud…with Odia colloquialisms….lends the local touch to this Bollywood production.
The story moves at a fast pace, and effectively documents the two and a half years of euphoria and hoopla surrounding the child prodigy. It also showcases how, in a sleepy little state capital like Bhubaneswar, charisma can become the subject of tussle—for power, for fame, for money and for supremacy of few bloated egos.
The rousing reception the child prodigy receives at hamlets and small towns, the priests describing him as an avatar of Vishnu, his legendary first big marathon of Bhubaneswar-Puri (more than 55km), the drama of the kid runner being carried off by the police for a health check-up all have been recreated faithfully and is quite an emotional treat.
All through, the devotion of the coach for his ward shines through. The fact that he did it not all for money, that his intent was indeed to find Odisha an Olympic marathon runner is emphasized very well in the movie. But it also portrayed the labyrinth of vested interests that cost Budhia his free-spirited runs, and Biranchi his life.
Born to Run is probably a lesson on what’s wrong with Indian sports in an Olympic year. And director Soumendra Padhi has done a good job of putting it back in the public conscience.
(Prabuddha dons many hats….thinker, writer, photographer, traveller, foodie and keeps shuttling between the great cities of the sub-continent in search of work, friends or meaning to life, or all three together. He has studied International Relations but works for an international travel firm. Aspires to become a full-time writer sooner or later. He is also co-founder of www.pattachitra.net, a platform to encourage artisans from Orissa’s villages. Twitter: @PrabuddhaJ)