What made you decide on Milkha Singh?
I was keen on doing a historical love story Mirza Sahiban. But the idea on Milkha Singh worked out better. Prasoon Joshi is writing it. I've been in Gulmarg shooting for a film I'm producing. Right from my childhood we've grown up with Milkha Singh's name. One has heard jokes about him, how he was known as the Flying Sikh, used to run barefoot, how he came from Pakistan. These were anecdotes I grew up with. I've been a sportsman myself during my student days. I used to go practising in the National Stadium in Delhi for swimming every day. Milkha Singh used to practice there every day. Then I came to know more details about his life. How at the age of 13 he watched his whole family being massacred in undivided India. He didn't know where to go. He somehow made his way to Delhi on refugee trains, etc.
Would all that be part of your film?
That's what attracted me to the subject and not so much his athletics. Milkha Singh's story was inspiring. I'll call the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, BMB for short. The theme is is, zindagi se bhago nahin zindagi ke saath bhago. It's very relevant to today's life. This guy had nothing and still he made spectacular success of his life. His life has such a resonance.
Have you met Milkha Singh?
I've met him numerous times in Chandigarh, talked to him for hours. During our conversation I opened doors for him that even he had closed. We got to know things even his family didn't know. He's 82 now. But I'd be depicting his life from age 13 to the 1960s, to the age of 28. Milkha's family has been very co-operative. It was Milkha Singh's son the champ- golfer Jeev who co-ordinated the whole system.
Whom are you casting?
No idea. We're starting the film at the end of this year or early next year. Any actor would kill for the part of Milkha Singh. This kind of a subject comes to an actor once during his lifetime. Not too many people are such role models. Even my Rang De Basanti was a bio-pic in a very strange way. But that was set in contemporary India. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB) goes back in time. I might cast a big star or a newcomer. Let's see.
Your films reflect socio-political reality. Would your Milkha look like him?
The role is extremely demanding. Dramatically and psychologically more demanding than physically. The actor will have to go through a journey into darkness to emerge in the bright light. It's a classic tale of struggle and triumph.
Your films have always been musicals. What about Bhaag Milkha Bhaag?
It's a musical. A R Rahman is doing the music. I've met him and told him the subject. It's a completely new territory for me. Rahman has travelled many universes. I want to reach Milkha's story to reach every part of the world. I want Milkha's story, told in Hindi-Punjabi to be dubbed in French, Polish, etc. This would be my most ambitious project striving to break linguistic barriers. Milkha's story has a universal resonance. It's an Indian story but very universal. We want Milkha Singh's story to go out to the world.
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who is planning his next film on the life of long-distance runner Milkha Singh talks to Subhash K Jha about the film titled Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.