As Budhia's story comes to the big screen with "Budhia Singh: Born to Run", we take a look at the young runner's life, and that of a few other athletes who hope to represent the country's hopes for sporting success
For a brief few months between 2005 and 2007, it seemed like India had found a national hero in a four-year-old boy. In the weaving and unravelling of the tale of that boy, Budhia Singh from Salia Sahi slum in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, arose a tangled mess of tensions and implications for everyone from his family and his coach to the bureaucratic and political powers of the state.
As the story readies itself for its first mainstream Hindi telling on the big screen in “Budhia Singh: Born to Run”, it’s easy to see why the diminutive little child drew the makers of the film. The first few threads of the story seem to fall right out a scriptwriter’s dream, with every further event only serving to give Budhia’s life an intensely filmic quality.
In brief, this was how the story of Budhia’s rise and fall from fame occurred:
These then are the bare bones of the story. But between their lines, a world of questions and contradictions lie half-buried.
At the heart of these contradictions is, of course, Biranchi. Judging from reports appearing around the time of his funeral, Biranchi was well-loved by the numerous underprivileged children he helped and trained, including more than a handful that became successful athletes. He has been referred to as a father figure by the young athletes he trained. Yet, questions can legitimately be raised about whether his ambitions to create an Olympic champion overwhelmed his empathy for his young wards.
Sukanti represents another set of contradictions. From selling her child to recovering him from Biranchi, from strongly supporting Biranchi to accusing him of torturing her child, it’s hard to read her actions along clear lines of black and white.
Then there’s the bureaucracy and its role in the entire story. In the documentary “Marathon Boy”, one of the questions raised by subjects in the film is why the administration should intervene at the point when Budhia was attaining fame, when they do not do so in the case of the many unnoticed children that live and die in poverty. But more alarmingly, the film also hints at the possibility that the CWC’s actions were motivated at least in part by Biranchi’s abrasive manner and his refusal to accord bureaucratic authorities the expected deference.
But many of these questions are also complicated by the difficulty in ascertaining Budhia’s own feelings on many of the episodes from that part of his life. Indeed, Budhia now says that many of the events from those days are a blur to him. And Gemma Atwal, the director of “Marathon Boy” suggests that many of Budhia’s statements from that period were simply repetitions of what he had been coached to say.
And finally, there are the set of questions raised by Budhia’s current situation. Recent reports suggest that Budhia is deeply unhappy with his lot now. One report says that Budhia is only being allowed to run sprints and short races, a kind of running he feels he is completely unsuited for. As a result, Budhia displays little better than mediocre talent on the track now, unable to beat his immediate peers, let alone compete on a larger stage.