Wednesday, May 1, 2013


A day after Farhan ‘Milkha’ Akhtar visited Calcutta to talk about MARD (Men Against Rape and Discrimination), the Milkha Singh came to town — after a gap of 20 years. The ‘Flying Sikh’ was in Calcutta on Saturday to receive the lifetime achievement award from the Calcutta Sports Journalists’ Club at its annual prize distribution function. He also met a group of visually impaired members from the Blind Empowerment Foundation. Milkha spoke about Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Farhan and life at 80-plus…

It is said that four other directors had offered to make a film on your life. Why did you choose Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra?

Milkha Singh’s story is like an open book and everyone knows how Milkha Singh became a hero from zero. But when it comes to the film, my son (and golfer) Jeev Milkha Singh took all the decisions. I haven’t seen any film after 1960. I don’t know any actor, director or scriptwriter. I had no idea how a film can be made. But Jeev watches one Hindi film every evening after his golf. He had seen Rang De Basanti and was really inspired by that film. Jeev also told me that though the previous directors wanted to pay us Rs 1.5 crore for the story, we would give it for only Re 1. So it was his decision.

My main idea was that the coming generations should be inspired by this story and they should know about my story. This is also the only film that’s being made on a living sportsman.

But you had set two conditions…

I wrote in the agreement that they would have to donate 10 to 20 per cent of the film’s profit to the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust. This was the first condition. The second was that Bhaag Milkha Bhaag would not be released unless I watch and approve each and every scene of the film. I haven’t seen the entire film till now. But after seeing the teaser, I feel they have done an excellent job. Teaser bahut hi achha tha.

Were you present during the shoot?

I have just seen two to three scenes that were shot inside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. Otherwise, I wasn’t present during the shoot.

You interacted with Farhan Akhtar before the shoot. What did you pass on to him?

I told Farhan Akhtar about how I would start, what my running style was like. I went to Mumbai to explain to him how Milkha Singh would do his sand running and hill running. He has really put in a lot of hard work to get the physique Milkha Singh had and that’s commendable.

Do you feel Farhan has been able to do justice to your character?

Farhan ne young Milkha Singh bann ke dikhaya hai. He has done a fabulous job and I am very pleased! The way young Milkha Singh looked in his real life.... This is a big achievement. Woh jo itna hard work karke wahan pahuncha hai, bahut badi baat hai. From the teaser it looks like it will be a really good film, but I will only be able to say once I see the entire film.

The movie isn’t just about the athlete Milkha Singh but also about the person and the horrors of Partition. It must have been difficult revisiting those memories...

It was really difficult. Now that you have asked me this question, mere rongte phir se khade ho gaye. What I experienced in Pakistan, it shouldn’t happen to anybody in this world. How many children can forget seeing their entire family being wiped out in front of their eyes — parents, brother and sister? I came to India hidden under a pile of dead bodies in a train’s compartment. It is extremely tormenting and difficult to revisit those memories. But now when I think about it, I realise that people on both sides weren’t in their senses.... unke sar pe bhoot chhaya hua tha.

I had refused to visit Pakistan in 1960, but it was on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s request that I finally went.... I am also grateful to Pakistan for giving me the title ‘Flying Sikh’. Throughout the world people know me as ‘Flying Sikh and that has been possible only for Pakistan.

Last year, there was a film made on Paan Singh Tomar, now it’s your turn...

We both had our own share of struggle but in different ways. Paan Singh Tomar’s circumstances forced him to become a dacoit. He was in my squad and I was his captain. He went to Germany, Pakistan, England and Japan with me. So I know personally what a good human being he was. These stories needed to be told and I am happy that these films are being made. In our times, nobody cared. It was a very different struggle. Despite having medals in steeplechase, nobody cared about him. Had he received some help, his story would have been very different.

In that way, I feel lucky. I am not just satisfied but more than satisfied with my life. I am very happy that my son is doing well in life, especially keeping in mind where I had started my journey from. I can’t ask for anything more in life.

Sneha Dutta