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HindustanTimes Sat,30 Aug 2014

I don’t know how much people know about Milkha Singh: Farhan Akhtar

Hindustan Times  Mumbai, July 12, 2013
First Published: 13:03 IST(12/7/2013) | Last Updated: 19:25 IST(12/7/2013)

This is the first time you’re doing a biopic. Is there pressure because Milkha Singh is a popular name?
Farhan: There is definitely a strong reference point in people’s minds regarding Milkhaji, but I don’t know how much people really know about his life. To a certain extent, I was also ignorant about how he became the Milkha Singh we know. So it was a different process for me to learn about his life.

We had his races for reference, so we’ve tried to match up in terms of his running style. Of course, Milkhaji was helpful in giving us insight. We needed to know what he stood for, the kind of person he was. I’m happy that he and his family have watched the film and are happy with it. They feel we’ve treated his life with the respect and dignity that it deserves.

Sonam, you didn't have a reference point for your character. How did you manage to keep it as real as possible?
Sonam: I worked with (director Rakeysh Omprakash) Mehra in figuring out what she should look like. And he told me that my character has to be like a dream. She has to be aspirational but grounded as well. I thought of looking at some of the heroines from the ’50s and ’60s and saw how they used to walk and dress... The hair had to be a certain way and even the body language had to be sort of bouncy.

Can a biopic backfire, since there are so many comparisons possible? 
Farhan: Every film is a challenge, which is why you enjoy the work you do. To me. the important people in this equation were Rakeysh, whose vision this movie is and Milkhaji himself. If they feel happy with the work, and if they can proudly tell people about it, that is creatively the most important thing for me.

You had the creative license to show Milkha Singh singing and dancing. How do you think the audience will react to that aspect?
Farhan: He wrote a book about his life (The Race Of My Life), which is where the whole theory of making this film came from. In the book, he talks about his early years in the army and how, once in a while, they would have a bonfire. Singing was an important part of that. He said that when he got a chance to dance, it was impossible to stop him. And
I think that’s a part of who he is.

How was the experience of physical training for the role?
Farhan: It was a hard process. It takes nothing to fall out of that zone; I mean you cheat here and there, and then you’re back to zero. The trainers I worked with had a lot to do in keeping me focussed.

How long was the process?
Farhan: We started training seven months before we got into photography (shooting). It was usually two sessions a day, which equals up to about five to six hours daily. And that was maintained till the shoot. During the shoot, we would do just one session.

Sonam, you have worked with Mehra in Delhi 6 (2009). It didn’t do well commercially. So when you were approached by the same director again, did you think twice?
Sonam: No. I see what I get from the film and what experiences I have gathered. And I learnt quite a bit while working with him. Whether Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB) does well or not, for me,  it’s the connection I have with the director. I might think twice before working with other directors, but I will work with Mehra again.

Farhan, is there any point where you take a creative call when acting in another director’s projects?
Farhan: We are constantly taking creative calls and I think the directors expect you to… That’s why filmmaking is called a collaborative art. Though it’s a director’s medium, you can’t work in isolation.

In terms of your career at this point, do you see yourself more of an actor or a director?
Farhan: I don’t know. What you constantly look for is a degree of inspiration. I really want to get back to writing in the disciplined way I used to a couple of years ago. I haven’t got a chance to do that. That’s something I miss.

Are you working on any more biopics?
Farhan: I am working on a few fictional biopics (laughs). Every film is about someone’s life, so…

Have you considered acting and directing in the same film?
Farhan: Together? Not at all.

What are you planning next after BMB?
Farhan: It’s been a non-stop journey for me for the past one-and-a-half years. So now I want to pause for a bit and reassess what I want to do next.

How did you balance facts with entertainment in a biopic such as BMB?
Farhan: We are talking about 16 years of a person’s life and squeezing it into a three hour window, so there will be certain interpretations that will come in; there will be certain artistic liberties that will have to be taken. He (Milkha Singh) has so many different facets and there are so many different things that have happened to him — that is the crucial thing and that’s where Prasoon’s script is masterful as far as writing is concerned.

Did Milkha Singh restrict you from showing some things?
Farhan: No, not at all. The trust that he had on Rakesh and Prasoon was admirable. There is nothing sensational in the film; it is very true to who he is. 

Sonam, did you really charge only 11 rupees for the film?
Sonam: Why do you want to know?

You must be charging in crores...
Sonam: I don’t charge in crores. I wish that was true and that would have made my life much easier. Honestly, it’s a small role. When Mehra told me he wanted me to do this film, he made me hear the script. I loved the script. Then he told me about the character he was planning to develop. I said I don’t think I should take anything. It’s like an Indian way of saying, take the ‘shagun’. And then we signed the contract.

Farhan, you have worked with Sonam as a co-star. Would you like to direct her as well in future?
Farhan:  Sure. See it’s very difficult to say who I want to direct in a movie since I don’t know what I am going to direct next. But would I like to work with her as a director? Yes I would love to.

Now that you have got a better glimpse into Indian sports and the condition of it, do you feel the need to support a particular sport or sports in general? 
Farhan: I think, hopefully, at some level through this film, there can be some kind of awakening at least within the Indian athletic federation to realise how much effort athletes put into training, the sacrifices they make, and what few opportunities they get to shine. You have one Commonweath Games, one Asian Games and Olympics, so you are training for years for that one moment of glory.

Sonam, are you inclined towards sports?
Sonam: Yes, I used to play a lot of sports in school. I was also captain of our basketball team and would run also. And I used to play touch rugby in college.

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