Budhia Singh - Born to Run review by Anupama Chopra: Here a plod, there a sprint

  • Anupama Chopra, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 06, 2016 11:32 IST
Manoj Bajpayee is subtle and nuanced in the role of trainer Biranchi Das. Mayur Patole as Budhia is an absolute natural. Sadly, the film never gets inside the little lead character’s head.


Direction: Soumendra Padhi

Actors: Manoj Bajpayee, Tillotama Shome, Mayur Patole

Rating: 3 / 5

The story of Budhia Singh is stranger than fiction. He was born in a slum in Bhubaneswar. His family was so poor that his mother sold him for 800 rupees. A judo trainer took him under his wing and discovered that the little boy had an almost superhuman ability to run. Biranchi Das trained Budhia to be a marathon runner. When he was four, Budhia made history by running 65 kilometres in seven hours and two minutes. But eventually a toxic mix of politics, press and egos undid the dream. Local authorities took Budhia away and sent him to a sports hostel where he grew up, largely forgotten. His mentor was murdered. Budhia is now 14 and he still hopes of someday making it to the Olympics.

The film treats with delicacy the fraught relationship between Budhia and Biranchi. While the coach is sometimes brutal, he gives the boy affection and purpose.

Budhia’s story is a distinctively Indian tragedy. The circumstances are so appalling that it’s impossible to decide who the villain is. Wisely, debutant director Soumendra Padhi doesn’t pick sides. He dramatises the facts but doesn’t gloss over the ugliness. Biranchi is driven by complex motives. He thrives on the attention and power that Budhia’s talent brings him. His training methods are awful – at one point, he makes Budhia keep running by dangling a water bottle in front of him. But Biranchi also gives the little boy affection and purpose. Without Biranchi, Budhia’s life becomes anchorless. Manoj Bajpayee imbues this difficult and sometimes unlikable man with humanity. He helps us to understand him.

Read: ‘We’ve made Manoj Bajpayee vulnerable’, says first-time director Padhi

Padhi’s narrative works best when it focuses on the relationship between Biranchi and Budhia. All the children in the film are very good – Mayur Patole as Budhia is an absolute natural. There’s a wonderful moment when a teacher asks Budhia to tell the class what he has done since the morning and Budhia replies: “Hugga aur bhagga”.

What’s less interesting is the whirlwind that Budhia’s talent ignites. The tamasha around each run, the press, the authorities who decide that Biranchi has turned Budhia into a performing monkey.

Biranchi’s loving but often fraught relationship with his wife is nicely etched, but the other characters aren’t fleshed out enough – especially Budhia’s mother, played by Tillotama Shome. After a while, the repetitive visuals of various marathons become, quite literally, a slog. I also felt like I never really got enough insight into Budhia’s head – he’s rebellious and mischievous and he really wants a red bicycle. But what drives Budhia to run and run and run? We never find out.

Despite these fault lines, Budhia Singh’s story stays with you. The anguish is authentic. Which makes the film worth your time.

Watch the trailer here

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