Milkha Singh has taken long strides into history, winning the race to be country's first living legend in sport to be the subject of a biopic.
"Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run, Milkha, Run)" is on its mark for release on July 12. A film on the life of super mom Mary Kom, who won the Olympic bronze-medal in boxing, is in production to take the second spot.
It's for a very important objective that Milkha sold the rights of his story to director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra for a token money of Re 1. "The young generation doesn't know much about the many hurdles before Milkha before he won many international races," said Milkha, now 77. "I want it to take inspiration from the movie and make the country proud. Making money was never on my mind," he said when asked why he had not charged the filmmakers.
Not many people know that the biopic is based mostly on Milkha's little-known autobiography "Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh", published first in Punjabi in 1977 and later translated into Hindi and English. For Milkha's selling Mehra the rights of using his autobiography's content, the director showed his appreciation by sourcing for him a Re-1 coin minted in 1958, the year he won India's first gold medal in athletics at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, UK.
His autobiography, currently out of print and available in select libraries or personal collections, contains numerous interesting anecdotes from his life. He mentions being imprisoned for travelling without ticket while living at Shahdara in Delhi and how one of his sisters, Iswar Kaur, had to sell her earrings to pay the fine and get him free after 20 days in jail.
There is an allusion to Milkha's first encounter with a foreign woman on his trip to Australia for the Melbourne Olympics of 1956. He talks about losing all the domestic races in his favourite event, 400m, until he made it to the Indian athletics squad in Melbourne. Flying Sikh lost in his maiden Olympics but did get the thrill of going by air for the first time.
"Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" tracks the sprinter's life from Partition through the 1960s, though some events might have been romanticised for screen.
Read about Milkha's early life, excerpts from his own narrative, in tomorrow's Brunch. The cover is dedicated to Flying Sikh: speedster in flashback