Longer than three hours, it’s more marathon than sprint, but director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s epic “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” (Run, Milkha, Run) — about India’s legendary track-and-field star Milkha Singh, nicknamed “The Flying Sikh” — is often an engrossing example of the sweeping, stirring biography.
Played by an ab-chiseled, grimacing and judiciously ebullient Farhan Akhtar, Singh is a man born of tragedy, grit and achievement: Orphaned by religious riots during the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, he found his athletic calling in the army, eventually setting 400-meter world records and representing India at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. (Still alive, Singh recently wrote his memoirs.)
Beautifully shot, the film is bracketed by Singh’s initial refusal — after a stinging loss at the Rome Olympics in 1960 — to participate in a friendly competition in Pakistan. This sets up flashbacks that dole out sequences of youthful survival, petty thievery, barracks life, fleeting romance and his education as a man running toward his destiny, rather than away from childhood trauma. (Yes, there are musical numbers, but they typically mark high points.)
The story’s natural heft excuses the occasional grandiosity of tone and repeated slo-mo during races lost and won, but there’s enough dramatic restraint and performance charm to give Singh his due as a justifiably glorified figure in India’s independence.
“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”
Running time: 3 hours, 8 minutes
Rating: Not rated
Playing at: AMC Burbank Town Center, AMC Orange, AMC Norwalk, Naz 8, Regal Westpark 8, AMC Covina.