In Soumendra Padhi’s film, Manoj Bajpayee plays Biranchi Das, coach to a prodigiously talented five-year-old marathon runner named Budhia Singh. Das, who raises the boy from poverty to become a champion runner, is every bit the classic tough movie coach, willing to go to any extent to extract the best from his player. But Bajpayee, aided by small directorial touches, also brings some nuances to his portrayal. Das, whose life revolves around his judo training centre, which doubles as a rehab facility for orphans, is shown to be resourceful and business-savvy, wily and emotional.

While the real-life Budhia’s career showed a sad decline after his initial stardom, Das met with a tragic end. He was accused of exploiting his young charge and was later shot dead by a gangster over a personal matter. Das is the closest this film comes to a complex character, but this is ultimately a film about Budhia. This is not to say that a Budhia biopic need only be about him. It could also explore the frenzied media glare, the public hysteria, the different players in the system who tried to co-opt the boy who simply wanted to run. Yet, barring Bajpayee’s track, the film doesn’t reveal anything that we don’t already know.

We see Budhia being turned into a local legend, the “Pride of Orissa", but it doesn’t explore what that means to a state. This is a by-the-numbers biopic whose anti-climactic end sadly doesn’t unsettle us as it should. If we feel somewhat for Budhia, it’s more because we see a malnourished child actor (Mayur Patole) from a slum, playing someone we feel bad about in real life—Budhia is now 14 and has been living in a sports hostel with other “ordinary" children. Cardboard characters—like the one-note child rights activist and her sidekick, who seem to have evil glints in their eyes—don’t help matters. Budhia Singh may be sincere and well-intentioned, but it is far from an engaging film.

Budhia Singh: Born To Run released in theatres on Friday.

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