Almost a decade ago, a boy wonder, not yet five, from the state of Odisha, burst onto the national consciousness when he became the world's youngest marathon runner. Budhia Singh managed to notch up runs more than ten times the number of his age back in 2006. He even traversed the 65 km between the cities of Bhubaneswar and Puri in little over seven hours in a widely watched and televised event. His coach Biranchi Das, a local judo teacher who ran an orphanage, had hoped for Singh to represent India at the 2016 Olympics. Well, the games are here, but the dream didn't materialise. Das was shot dead in 2008 by those who didn't like him. Budhia Singh is nowhere on the scene.
Budhia Singh: Born To Run explores the story of a boy and his coach, who rescues him from penury and adopts him. One day, as a punishment, Das orders Singh to keep running circles in the house till he returns. He forgets and five hours later, Singh is still running. Amazed, Das begins to think about the possibilities. He pushes Singh to train harder and harder, dangling chocolates, shiny red shoes and water in front of his new pupil. Supported by one side of the state's political machinery, Das manages to make celebrities out of both, the teacher and the student. A bonding begins to blossom between them while bureaucracy starts to spread its dreaded tentacles.
The film captures the complexities that engulfed and choked the tender talent of a little boy who becomes a mere puppet in the hands of those with power. There was no space to discuss even the merits and demerits of Singh's achievements at a young age. Even if there was room to debate how much, how long, in what way must a young child train to become a world class athlete, it got mired in deep politics that broke spirits at several levels. Everyone hated Das for being a pushy, almost cruel trainer, some even accusing him of serving personal interests, but when Singh ran to make the historic 65km record, everyone found themselves invested in some way or the other. Run and the world runs with you. Stop and they push you even further back.
The character of Manoj Bajpaee as Biranchi Das unfurls as first a man going about his many businesses with the patronage of local and state politics to a pushy coach who then subconsciously came to love his pupil as his own son. Despite a minimum speaking role, Mayur Patole as Budhia Singh evokes varying emotions.
The film, at nearly two hours, is a run well practiced. The poignant factor is that it's a biopic. As a viewer, you may be receptive and open to a film offering up its own politics, but this one makes you gallop alongside and ferret your own answers.