The timing couldn’t have been better. It is entirely fitting that on the eve of the Rio Olympics a sports film — Budhia Singh: Born To Run — on an Indian child marathoner, should hit the screens.
What’s more significant, however, is that Budhia Singh manages to break away from several principle arcs and formulae even while remaining squarely within the conventions of a typical Indian sports film.
The film is not weighed down by the burden of nationalism; in fact it inverts and questions it. It is not quite about winning for India. Then there is the ‘triumph of the underdog’ cliché.
Yes, there is an underprivileged child at the heart of the film but we don’t wallow in the squalor of his slum life in Bhubaneshwar. Nor do we celebrate his rise up from the bottom of the heap.
It is about how India can actually crush its own hope for medals, trample a champion on the margins of the society than help him blossom. In fact it also makes us debate whether it is entirely ethical in dreaming of a champion in a mere five-year-old? For a change, it’s also good not to have Mumbai and Delhi as the centre of action in a Hindi film.
Soumendra Padhi, a new filmmaker from Orissa, comes up with an assured debut: nicely paced, well-crafted and entirely engaging. A film that is rooted in the State, brings alive the sights, sounds, lingo, colours and flavours of Orissa, right down to the defining dessert — chhena poda — and yet manages to speak to all.
Yes, the film is on the wonder boy from Orissa, Budhia Singh (Mayur Patole), but it’s not quite right to describe it as a biopic.
It is not about that talented little boy but the circus that was built around him. The boy, who wets his bed, can’t even tie his shoelaces and can hardly comprehend the significance of long-distance running. There is a candidness and honesty with which he talks about it when asked by the school teacher on what he did in the morning, “Hage aur bhage (went to the washroom and ran)”.
For him running is as fundamental as the daily ablutions. He is not in it for the country, the money, the prestige. He is in it because somebody has spotted the winner in him and is egging him on: his coach Biranchi Das (Manoj Bajpayee).
Director: Soumendra Padhi
Starring: Manoj Bajpayee, Mayur Patole, Shruti Marathe, Tillotama Shome, Gajraj Rao, Chhaya Kadam
Run time: 111 minutes