'We haven't touched child prodigies. This will be the first film to do so.'
'What if there is a special talent like him, do we have the infrastructure to deal with it? That is the larger question the film is trying to ask.'
Budhia Singh: Born To Run director Soumendra Padhi discusses his new film.
First-time director Soumendra Padhi's film Budhia Singh: Born To Run has already won the National award for Best Children's Film. And to think that he didn't have the confidence to tell his parents that he wanted to become a director.
A software engineer, Odisha-based Padhi came to Mumbai without informing them about his movie-making plans. Even while he was making the film, they though he was in the advertising field.
Only when news of the film broke out, did his parents realise the truth about their son.
"This is the best time to make films," Padhi says. "A lot of things have changed in the last five-seven years. People are ready to bet on new things. The audience has also changed and want to see different stuff."
Starring Manoj Bajpayee and Mayur Patole, Budhia Singh: Born To Run will release on August 5.
There are quite a few biopics being made on sports personalities. Why did you choose to make a film on Budhia Singh?
I think we haven't touched child prodigies. This will be the first film to do so.
What if there is a special talent like him, do we have the infrastructure to deal with it? That is the larger question the film is trying to ask.
The other reason is that a film on a marathon (runner) has never been made. Films on sprint running have been made but the marathon is a different sport.
The reason I wanted to make this film was because I was fascinated with child prodigies since my childhood, be it Lord Krishna or anyone. Being from an army school, I wanted to do something in sports as well. I am from Odisha, so all the puzzles pieces came together with this film.
There are a lot of contradictions in the film, which are very interesting.
It has all the elements that you need in a story.
Even the lead character is a little flawed, which makes it even more interesting.
How did you go about the casting?
We couldn't go for commercial actors because they wouldn't want to explore an unknown area but we needed someone famous.
We needed an actor of Manoj Bajpayee's caliber. We have made him as vulnerable as we can.
We chose actors who could take the risk.
The casting of Budhia's character was a long process. We had auditioned 1,200 kids for four-five months. The children came from Pune, Mumbai's Dharavi slums, Odhisa, Chattisgarh, Delhi and Hyderabad.
The child is the soul of the film and if he doesn't connect, the film will not connect with the audience.
Finally, we found him in Mayur Patole. He was very good in running and has a similar background (to the real Budhia Singh). There is a lot of loneliness in his eyes. He had never faced the camera before. We wanted someone fresh, so we could capture the innocence and vulnerability.
The other cast consisted of theatre actors from Odisha, Bengal, Mumbai, Pune and Satara.
Was it difficult to train Mayur?
We didn't train him. We tried to be friends with him because you can't teach a five or six year old acting.
Whatever discomfort he had, we wanted to capture that. For instance, how would Budhia feel if a news channel tried to capture him running? Mayur would actually behave the way Budhia would have.
We tried to revolve our shoot around the kid. Whenever he was prepared, we were prepared. He never gave us any trouble. It was a huge experience for him as well.
Where has the film been shot?
Most portions were shot in Odisha, and some in Pune, for the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force).
We needed 400 CRPF officers. We required permission to shoot them, and so tried to do all those portions in Odisha, Mumbai and Pune.
From 2006 to 2016, the uniforms have also changed.
Have you met the real Budhia?
Yes. He was very excited.
He remembers briefly that his coach would wake him up early in the morning and he didn't know why. The coach would make him run, and talk about politics. They used to give him oil massage because he used to run 30 km a day.
He was very small and so many years have passed.
He has seen the trailer and some portions of the film.
Which events from his life will be a part of the film?
We will show as long as the coach and the child are together. It's a relationship story and we have tried to capture that.
In an interview, Budhia's mother had said that there was no nutritious food for her son at the hostel, and that he did not want to stay there. Will this be a part of the biopic?
We are trying to create awareness.
That is a good sports hostel. Dutee Chand, the girl who has qualified for the Olympics this year, is one of the inmates with Budhia. But she got trained in Punjab.
There are 100 others (in the hostel); Budhia is one of them. There is no special treatment. He has to come out and there has to be a specialised coach for him. There isn't much awareness about sprint and marathon running.
We saw sprint in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
The shoes, training and approach for both is very different.
Now, they are making him run 1,500 meters and saying he can't run. You can beat him till the first 2 km but after 5 km, you will get tired. He won't. That is what people have to understand.
According to reports, he cannot run his school race.
He isn't meant for sprint running, he is meant for marathon running.
For sprint, you need speed. For marathon, you need stamina.
Why did you change the film's title from Duronto to Budhia Singh - Born To Run?
The creative team felt that with Budhia Singh-Born To Run, we would be able to reach a wider audience.
People might confuse Duronto with the train.
We had named it Duronto for a different reason. Duronto, in Sanskrit, means restless. The film has a certain kind of restlessness, so we wanted to show that.
But Budhia Singh-Born To Run is a good decision, as people are able to connect with it.
How famous is Budhia Singh in Odisha?
He is very famous.
When I visited Odisha in 2009, any random guy in Bhubaneswar will show you his place. He was that popular. He was like a demigod when he used to run in 2006. He would be mobbed by people. There were dedicated news channels, who would cover his story everyday.
It was fascinating to see a huge crowd gather around a small child running.
Who all did you meet for the film?
Almost everyone -- the coach, his wife, the doctors who were with Budhia, Sampad Mahapatra from NDTV, who covered it extensively, people from the local channels, judo students, the people in the slums...
We met people, who were unbiased and could give a fair story.
Will this film encourage people from smaller towns take up sports as a profession?
I think it should. It's very inspiring that a small child from a humble background can achieve such great heights. With the right resources and guidance, people will opt for it.
Also, government aid will help.
This isn't about small towns only, but everywhere.
We spoke to India's football captain, Sunil Chhetri, and he said that when he used to practice in his initial days, he never had shoes. Now, he gets nine pairs of shoes every month but he doesn't want them. He has money to buy them now.
Nobody is interested to invest in a process. After you achieve something, people invest.
Which is your favourite children's film in India? Were you inspired by any of them while making this?
Mr India is my all-time favourite. Anjali and Salaam Bombay! were fantastic. These are iconic films.
Makdee had a fantastic story telling.
I am always in awe of children. Even when I make short films, I make it with children. Most of the kids I have worked with haven't faced the camera before.
Have you watched Marathon Boy?
Yes. There was another film made by NDTV, a documentary on Budhia.
People from nine countries have made a film on him.
A lot of documentaries have been made by the local channels.
What did Budhia say after he watched the trailer?
Budhia has become very popular in school. Everyone is taking selfies with him.