Budhia Singh, then a 6 year old from the Indian state of Odisha, made news all over for being the youngest marathon runner in the world. Biranchi Das, Budhia’s coach and the man solely responsible for all the fame and acclaim the wonder kid garnered during a short span of time, was shot dead several years back. For someone who was touted to be a star, Budhia has now faded from people’s consciousness. Budhia was banned from running and taking part in any marathon by the Government and the ban, despite several public litigations and protests, has not been revoked. While the Hindi film industry has churned out several sports based films in the past, it is interesting to come across a film based on a child prodigy who faded into oblivion after achieving so much at a young age. ‘Budhia Singh: Born To Run’, earlier titled ‘Duronto’, aims to tell the story of this athlete and his relationship he shared with his bereaved coach.
Budhia Singh, born into an impoverished family in a chawl in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, is sold off to a bangle seller by his mother for an amount of Rs. 850. Biranchi Das, who runs a judo training centre for orphaned children and does some social work on the virtue of being associated with a political party, rescues Budhia from the clutches of the bangle seller and gets him enrolled in his judo classes. A particular incident makes Biranchi see a rare talent in Budhia. He realizes that Budhia, at this young age, has the ability to run for long hours. Biranchi decides to train him and give him a platform that would make the world see the child’s talent. Though Biranchi shows genuine affection towards Budhia, he is quite a task master and trains Budhia rigorously. Soon enough, Budhia gets the opportunity to show his mettle as an athlete to the world and ends up becoming a star overnight. The Government is not too kind towards Biranchi though as it claims, he is exploiting a child and using him as a medium to fulfil his personal and political goals.
Debutant director Soumendra Padhi is careful enough not to take sides and does not glorify or portray someone in a bad light. The film brings to fore several issues but does not spoon-feed you with fabricated information, that would help you decide who or what is right or wrong. Padhi, who hails from the same state as Budhia, keeps the narrative rooted in realism by weaving in the milieu, language and culture of the place seamlessly into the plot. One would think that Budhia’s journey as an athlete has been too short to be made into a feature length film but the film offers several insights into Budhia and Biranchi’s life which makes it for a film worth investing your time in. While the character arc of Budhia is fairly interesting, you do feel that the director could have thrown in some more references for one to get a little more familiar with him. The lack of high octane dramatic moments, which one has come to expect from films of this genre, is something that the audience might whine about. The relationship between Budhia and Biranchi has been built up very well and some of the best scenes in the film, are the ones involving the two of them.
Manoj Bajpayee, as always, delivers a nuanced performance and plays a complex part with remarkable ease. Mayur Patole, who essays the role of Budhia, is completely natural. The fact that he resembles Budhia helps and his effortless act leaves you with no scope to find faults with his performance.
What sets ‘Budhia Singh: Born To Run’ apart from other sports dramas is that it does not seem to be over-dramatized to please a certain section of the audience. The subtle and overly simple narrative might not go down well with everyone but there is no denying that the film, toplined by some highly effective performances, makes for a compelling watch.