Milkha Singh is running very fast again -- this time, at the box office.
The legendary athlete's biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, starring Farhan Akhtar, has created a global stir, and the icon cannot hide his grin.
Speaking from Chandigarh, Milkhaji says, "My phone has not stopped ringing ever since the film released. I am getting hundreds of congratulatory calls from all over the world."
The most surprising call that Milkha Singh got was from American sprinter Carl Lewis.
“Yes, Carl Lewis called me. He saw my film and was very moved. He couldn’t follow the Hindi dialogues but he was accompanied by an Indian friend, who explained the dialogues to him," Milkhaji said. "He is an world-acknowledged runner and has won gold medals in the Olympics. He is one of the greatest sprinters in the world. He wants to send me a gift of appreciation. I told him there was no need. I am overwhelmed. There are long queues at cinema halls to see my film.
"The credit for the film's success must go the director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, writer Prasoon Joshi, editor P S Bharathi and Farhan Akhtar for playing me with such conviction. Also, to Divya Dutta for bringing my sister’s role to life.
"Credit must also go to Viacom 18 for co-producing the film with Rakeysh," he continues. "If it wasn’t for the entire team and their belief in the project, my story would not have been told so well. So many athletes have come and gone unsung. I am very fortunate."
The fact that BMB is serving as an inspiration to the youth is what is most heartening to Milkha Singh. "The message that if you try you can be another Milkha is very strongly put across in the film. I wanted youngsters in our country and all over the world to be so moved by my story of struggle that they would be inspired into doing something worthwhile with their lives. And that’s exactly what has happening. When I saw the film for the first time, I couldn’t believe they had done such a fine job of putting my life into a three-hour film.”
Milkhaji is bowled over by Farhan Akhtar’s performance. “He is exactly how I wanted to see myself on screen. Full credit must go to Rakeysh for seeing me in Farhan. The truth is many other actors, including Akshay Kumar, wanted to play Milkha Singh but Farhan has done kamaal. He even resembles me."
Milkhaji admits that the entire story of his life has not been represented in BMB. “If they had taken all the incidents from my life, the film would have been at least 10 hours long.”
Milkhaji credits his son ace-golfer Jeev Singh for encouraging the project. “I have no idea about movies and the film industry. I haven’t seen any film since 1960. My son, who watches a film every day, was very impressed by Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti. Jeev told me if I have to let my story go on film, it must be done by Rakeysh Mehra. Before Rakeysh, three-four directors had approached me with the offer to do a film on me. They even offered me substantial amounts of money. I chose Rakeysh Mehra.”
Milkha Singh took just a token fee of Re 1 for the film. However, it was decided that if the film makes profits, some of it would go into the Milkha Singh Charity Trust.
"We distribute medicines to the poor, encourage promising athletes and help retired sportsmen," Milkha explains. "In our country, sportspersons are given no financial succour. I have personally seen so much poverty and hardship. Believe me, the film shows only 20 percent of my suffering. They couldn’t show all the pain."
Milkha Singh now has only one unfulfilled wish. "The gold medal that slipped out of my hand in the Rome Olympics must come to us. Before I leave this world, I want one Indian youngster to go get that medal for our country. That’s the my last wish.”
In the picture: Farhan Akhtar and Milkha Singh. Photograph: Pradeep Bandekar