Real-life Budhia Singh is pinning all his hopes on reel-life Budhia Singh.
The boy-wonder from Odisha who fired India’s imagination a decade ago by running marathons at the age of four is desperately hoping a Bollywood biopic “Budhia Singh – Born to Run” will turn the spotlight back on him.
Budhiya insists he needs all the help.
Soon after he burst into the limelight in 2006 and entered the Limca Book of Records by running the whole of 65 kms from Puri to Bhubaneswar, he became a victim of a controversy stoked and shaped by elders.
Many alleged that making him run long-distances amounted to child abuse and the Odisha government stepped in, keen to be on the right side of the raging debate.
The authorities took Budhia away from the care of his mentor and coach Biranchi Das and forcibly enrolled him at the hostel of the state-run Kalinga Stadium Academy.
For the past 10 years, officials have made him study and also run sprints but Budhia hasn’t excelled in either. He is now in Class 9 but academics is not his strong point, teachers say.
He also now comes last in short-distance school races. Worse still, Biranchi Das was murdered in 2008, robbing Budhia of his greatest well-wisher.
Deprived of running his beloved marathons that were possibly his only chance to escape from an ordinary life rooted in the Saliasahi slum of Bhubaneswar, Budhia feels desperate.
“I want to get out of Odisha,” he says. He and his mother have been in Tamil Nadu’s Kodaikanal for the past few days and are reluctant to return to a life controlled by the Odisha government.
“Except for helping me get education, the Odisha government has not done anything for my sport. I want a dedicated coach, even if it means moving to Delhi or Mumbai. The focus at the academy is only on sprinters, not on marathon running,” laments Budhia.
The Odisha government says there is no way it can allow a 14-year-old to run a marathon.
“As per the International Athletics Federation rules, a child below the age of 14 can run a maximum of 600 metres. Under-16 can run a maximum of 3000 metres,” says Saswat Mishra, Director (Sports).
“If Budhia is made to run a marathon, his growth will be stunted. Being in a government facility, we cannot allow him to run marathon at this age. It is not as if he does not know it, he is fully aware of the norms.’’
Once adjudged the “Most loved Odiya” by a local TV channel based on popular votes, Budia is hoping the feature film will bring him back to reckoning once again. The makers of “Budhia Singh – Born to Run” are equally optimistic.
“Our system has failed time and again. Budhia is a burning example of that failure,” points out actor Manoj Bajpayee, who essays the role of the coach Biranchi in the movie.
Mayur Patole, a boy from Pune, was shortlisted to play Budhia after auditioning some 1,200 people.
The film makers say their movie isn’t a run-off-the-mill sports biopic like the recent ones on ace runner Milkha Singh or boxing legend Mary Kom. The established stars were success stories, while Budhia’s is still a work in progress.
Budhia and the film’s director Soumendra Padhi expect the film to work wonders for both. Budhia expects public interest in him will be rekindled and he will be free again to run long distances. Padhi expects to make another sequel some years later titled “Bhaag Budhia Bhaag”.