One of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films of 2013 was Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB). The comprehensive breathtaking bio-pic on Olympian athlete Milkha Singh has found an unlikely dissenter in thespian Naseeruddin Shah who has for reasons best known to him, lashed out at BMB, calling it and Farhan Akhtar's performance, "fake".
The remark has raised the hackles of many notable individuals in the entertainment industry. One of Naseer's old co-stars said, "Naseer should focus on the quality of his own work. After doing Jackpot he is in no position to pass judgment on any film, let alone one that has deeply moved and inspired Indians and non-Indians across the world."
Farhan's step-mother Shabana Azmi who has worked extensively with Naseer in some of the most influential films of Indian cinema says Naseer's opinion on Farhan's performance and the film are not appreciated.
Says Shabana, "Farhan was outstanding in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. His performance gave me gooseflesh. He has raised the bar for what actors should demand from themselves while portraying real-life characters. Naseer is entitled to his opinion. But most Indians don't agree with him."
While Rakeysh Mehra and Farhan Akhtar desisted from comment, Prasoon Joshi who has written BMB spoke exclusively to this writer on the controversy.
Says Prasoon, "I respect Naseer Saab and he's entitled to his opinion. But I don't agree with his opinion on BMB. I've written the film. It has inspired and connected with people all across the world. It was not meant to be a documentary or a niche film."
Commenting on Naseer's opinion that Farhan Akhtar doesn't resemble Milkha, Prasoon says, "In my opinion Farhan has done a great job in terms of the character that I wrote. I had deliberately incorporated tones of fact and fiction. He has shone in his interpretation of the character. There are no false notes at all in his performance."
Pawan Malhotra who plays Milkha's coach also stands staunchly by the film. "You can't please everyone. I was and I am very happy to be part of BMB."
When I cross-checked with Naseer he admitted he was not impressed by BMB. "But the makers are convinced they've made a masterpiece. Look, spare me, will you? No one involved with that film gives a damn about my opinion. And I am not really keen to hurt their feelings."
Director Ajay Bahl agrees with Naseeruddin Shah. Says Bahl, "I didn't like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag at all. I found the film too long. The script went all over the place and the direction was over-indulgent. However, I think Farhan Akhtar did a splendid job of recreating Milkha Singh's persona. The film just didn't match his performance."