Originally titled Duronto, writer-director Soumendra Padhi’s National Award-winning film (for children) looks at the triumphant and tragic true story of a 5-year-old boy and his mentor coach.
Budhia Singh is born in abject poverty in an Orissa slum. His mother sells him for around Rs 800 to a drunk and abusive bangle seller from where judo coach and general do-gooder Biranchi Das rescues the child and inducts him into his home for orphans.
Spotting Budhia’s remarkable stamina and ability to run tirelessly for long hours, Das decides to train the child to be a marathon runner. In a short time, Budhia Singh achieves fame and infamy as the country’s youngest marathoner, as a record-breaker and becomes the poster boy for Orissa.
At the same time, he comes under the radar of the State Child Welfare department that accuses Das of exploitation of a child too young to endure such tough conditions as running, in one instance, over 60 km without water. The authorities eventually prevail and Budhia is taken into the state’s care.
Padhi’s challenge is to maintain a balance between depicting Das’ ideologies and intentions (whose untimely death put a further nail in the coffin of Budhia’s possible ascent to world class competitive athletics), Budhia’s own needs and the compulsions of those on the periphery of this circus, including Budhia’s mother, local politicians and bureaucrats. One of the film’s greatest achievements is to pull this off.
Das is not painted simply as a hero in Budhia’s life. He may have had the child’s best intentions at heart but there are enough shades of grey to doubt his methods. Another of Padhi’s achievements is drawing out endearing performances from his lead cast, primarily among them Manoj Bajpayee who is dynamite as Das, and the child actors, including the incredibly alert and adorable Mayur Patole as Budhia. Shruti Marathe adds the emotional layer as Das’s supportive wife Gita who disapproves of her husband’s obsession with the child.
The drama builds nicely especially during the mega-run in which Das sets a 70-km target for Budhia. The background music, camerawork and editing lend to the mood and escalating drama which staggers a bit in the second half but keeps its sights firmly on the finish line — as to who really knew what was best for the boy.
Budhia Singh: Born To Run’s release is consciously timed with the Rio Olympics — the very event in which Das thought Budhia would excel.