At the end of the movie, Milkha Singh(Farhan Akhtar) overcomes the demons in his life and participates in a race in a land where he lost most of his family. The climax has poetic justice written all over it. To be fair, the final race is thrilling too. Unfortunately, the thrilling climax comes at a point where the movie has already tested the patience of the audience. After telling a story about ordinary yet colorful life in Delhi-6, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra chooses to narrate the story of the Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh, on the screen. There is a "inspired by a true life" declaration at the end of the movie. This is to caution the viewers not to believe all what is seen on the screen. Even though the basic premise is inspired from the life of Milkha Singh, there is a lot of elements added or changed for entertainment.
The movie starts with Milkha Singh's losing out an opportunity to win the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. After his return, an entourage sent by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, comprising of Coach Gurudev Singh(Pawan Malhotra) and Coach Ranveer Singh(Yograj Singh), pays a visit to Milkha Singh in order to persuade him to participate in the friendly races organized with the neighboring country. The story of Milkha Singh is slowly revealed in the train journey of this entourage from Delhi to Chandigarh. This is how Prasoon Joshi sets his screenplay. This is a good technique to hook the audience. Like a real conversation, the narrative meanders into many things except the answer to the question that started the conversation. Why is Milkha not willing to participate in the friendly races? We all have been part of the conversations where we have veered away from the topic. This is pardonable. Now if you add unnecessary footage, slow motion and jarring background to the above problem, the end result is horribly slow and unpardonable.
The triumph of the movie lies in a few performances and the action sequences (read it as running race). Farhan Akhtar, Pawan Malhotra and Yograj Singh, after a bad start, infuses life into this movie. Farhan Akhtar has built on his physique and appearance for the role. If you look at the old photos of Milkha Singh, you can see the resemblance. Farhan, being a good actor, easily slips into the role. Anyways, this is not a complex role to play but a physically demanding role to play. This is where Farhan succeeds. Pawan Malhotra is Gurudev Singh who is Milkha's first coach. Thank god! Pawan Malhotra makes sure the role does not degrade into the regular Punjabi speaking sidekick we often find onscreen. Pawan shows his calibre in the scenes where he pushes Milkha Singh to deliver the best or the move into the next phase of his racing life. Yograj Singh represents strength and stability. The role doesn't demand much except screen presence. This is what he brings to the table. He is gentle yet tough and can train an athlete.
The action sequences are beautifully executed. Being the story of an athlete, the movie has a lot of races. Although the races end up exasperating the viewer after a while, the race itself is an exciting piece to watch. In order to keep us glued to the seat, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and cinematographer Binod Pradhan chooses many interesting compositions and angles. Moreover, the runners are real runners. You can feel their pain while running. Be it the way the runners breath during the race, the way their bodies are arched forward, the way their legs move, the way the muscles in the body ripple... You are in the middle of the race, closer than what is featured in the news channels.
There are many things which Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra goes wrong. The tone used for the movie is dark. For a movie which deals in the triumph of the human spirit, this is the wrong tone. Being a movie set in 1950s, there is a big challenge on the locales used. Here, a lot of CGI is used. The CGI may be subtle but the entire frame looks unnatural. The movie tries to cover a lot of events which mars the pace of the movie eventually. A running time of 189 minutes is an eternity when the scenes are dragged for no reason with multiple angles, slow motions and music.
It is ironic when the movie inspired by the life of the Flying Sikh turns out to be very slow. Although this is a brave attempt, the end result is not a focused one. I advice you to stay away. Give it a try if the makers a ready to trim the length.