Budhia had no idea what an extraordinary thing he was doing: Soumendra
He let go of his comfortable career in a software firm to pursue filmmaking full time. And his move has paid off with his debut film, Budhia Singh – Born to Run (Earlier titled Duronto), winning the National award for Best Children’s Film 2016. Filmmaker Soumendra Padhi who hails from Orissa, captures the journey of the youngest marathon runner Budhia Singh who was the toast of the nation for quite a while because of his prodigious running ability. According to Padhi, though the film isn’t completely biographical it encapsulates the spirit of the time. In a chat with Pandolin, the director talks at length about the film and its making process.
Why and how did you make a switch from software to filmmaking?
The idea of getting into this field was always there but I needed the financial freedom and so I took up a job. I quit it after six months, came to Mumbai and joined an animation course. Subsequently I got into advertising and then into shooting short films and small documentaries.
There was a time when everyone was interested in Budhia Singh. How did this subject first pique your interest and when did you start writing it?
I started writing it way back in 2010 and the script was ready by 2012. Post that we got our legal permissions and all. We started shooting in 2014 and shot it in 2015 too. However, I started following Budhia’s story only after the murder of his coach, Biranchi Das, and from there I followed up the back-story. Since I also belong to the same place it was very fascinating as to how such a small kid could run extraordinary distances and still go unnoticed. He was very popular over there, his name would come up and people would smile. It was a miracle.
It is not a film just for children, though a child is the lead protagonist
How would you describe the film – is it a sports biopic or a film for children?
It is not a film just for children, though a child is the lead protagonist. It is about a small kid’s epic journey along with his coach and how they achieved an incredible dream together. Given the socio-political structure that he came from, even though he was a kid he was allowed to run such distances. But had this kind of a thing happened outside India it would have been very shocking. Here we were fine with it and it also gave us a sense of achievement. For the Western world it was shocking as to how could a government and society allow a kid to run such distances. But he did it, he was gifted.
What sets the film apart from other sports biopics like a Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or Paan Singh Tomar?
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Paan Singh Tomar and other biopics that we see are usually about sprint runners or other short distances. But this is about a marathon and that’s a completely different thing. If you look back at its history, you’ll find a lot of socio-political context associated with it. It is not just a run. People in the advanced stages of cancer or people who are around 100 years of age go for this run. It is something beyond the race, something bigger than a mere run. Through the film and the coach, we are trying to say a bigger thing. It is a metaphor.
He (Budhia) had no idea what an extraordinary thing he was doing. Many hilarious situations too came up, like one time there was an NGO protesting his run and another one wanted him to go ahead for a cause. Though he had no idea about them he was running for many causes and because of his popularity, people were becoming aware. He was a demi-god. Marathon is very different from any other sport. Had he been playing football or golf no one would have batted an eye but since this was a matter of endurance, that made it a very-very different case.
Through the film and the coach, we are trying to say a bigger thing. It is a metaphor
Could you elaborate on the research and prep undertaken before you started filming?
We stayed in Bhubaneswar for the whole time while we were interacting with the late Biranchi’s wife, doctor, CRPF officers and other associated real people. We took permission from the government for CRPF officers because there is an epic marathon in the film, which happened in actuality where Budhiya ran 70 Kms in seven hours. 200 CRPF officers were involved and they used to switch after five kilometers as they got tired but Budhia completed the run. We have incorporated a lot of actual stuff in the film.
What was the making process of the film like, from its casting to the visual treatment and shooting locations?
The casting took place in Mumbai but for Budhia’s role, we auditioned all over India. We scouted Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, even Dharavi (Mumbai) slums. We took help from a lot of local organizations everywhere who helped us organize these auditions. Kids undertook workshops during auditions and this process went on for around three to three and a half months. We shot the film in Orissa, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and CRPF locations at Puri, Bhubaneswar and Pune. We also shot at a lot of villages around Puri and Bhubaneswar and at the iconic Jagannath temple too. While planning for the shoot we had broken it down according to the seasons as we wanted to be clear on what we will achieve during winter, what could be achieved in summer and so on. That is the journey we have captured in the narrative.
Mayur’s training would start every morning at 6 o’clock with his coach who was hired specially for this purpose
Was it difficult working with a child actor as compared to a seasoned actor like Manoj Bajpayee? What kind of preparation the actors had to undergo?
Around five months before starting the shoot, we got permission from Mayur’s (who plays Budhia) school, parents and NGOs and brought him to Mumbai. He is also from a very similar background. We auditioned a lot of kids but he was the best runner. This film required a lot of running and he had to undergo training for that. Mayur’s training would start every morning at 6 o’clock with his coach who was hired specially for this purpose. Manoj Bajpayee gave us almost four months for pre-production. He learned Judo, learned a lot about Orissa and also took a lot of workshops with the kid. His character of the coach is complex and only an actor of his caliber could have pulled it off.
You won the National award for the Best Children’s Film. Do you think we are making enough number of children’s films today? What changes would you like to see in this genre?
We were awarded for Best Children’s Film but I am not sure whether it is a children’s film. But a particular age group, say around 12-14-year-olds will get it I think. On making children films, I believe that the Marathi film industry is the only one where good films for children are being made. This is serious business though; the Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI) takes you very seriously. We have had some good films in the recent past like Chillar Party and others, but yes, a lot of work has to be done even with regards to marketing etc. We have large children audiences but very few films are being made for them.
I believe that the Marathi film industry is the only one where good films for children are being made
How was the overall experience of capturing the life of a talent like Budhia?
I have seen, read and met all these people (associated with the story) and this film is basically my interpretation of what I have felt when I went through it. This is just my point of view and since it is not completely biographical it is not exact, but it captures the spirit of the time from those days. We have tried to put in a lot of stuff, which people are not aware of but we have done it in the spirit and hopefully it will communicate and reach out.