'If Milkha Singh was born in present times, no one would be able to break his record in 100 yrs'
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Legendary athlete Milkha Singh's story is one of guts and glory, now the subject of a biopic. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Assistant Editor Nihal Koshie, he talks about the race he ran to finish fourth in the 1960 Rome Olympics and how he cried when he saw Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Nihal Koshie: It is said that when the makers of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag approached you, you gave away the rights for Re 1. Why did you do that?
I have only seen movies of my generation—Mother India, Shree 420, Awaara. Those days, we had actors such as Dilip Kumar, Ashok Kumar... I haven't seen a single movie after 1960. So I don't know the new directors or actors. Recently, three to four directors had come to my house asking for rights to make a movie on my book and offered me between Rs 50 lakh and a crore. My son (golfer Jeev Milkha Singh) is a movie buff—he has to watch one after every match—and he told me, 'Papa, if we have to give the film to somebody, then it will be Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra because I have seen Rang De Basanti and I liked it. And if you are in need of money, then I will give you a cheque for Rs 1.5 crore, but we will give the story for Re 1'. So it was my son's decision. But in the agreement that we signed, I also put in a clause, saying 10-15 per cent of the profits from the movie would go to the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust.
Coomi Kapoor: Can you tell us about your early years?
We were from a village that's now in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district, in Kot Addu tehsil. Our village was 10 km away from the city. The boys had to walk barefoot for 10 km from the village to the school in Kot Addu. The stretch was sandy and in the months of May and June, you can imagine how hot it would get. We would run for a kilometre, stop when we found a patch of grass, cool our feet and then run again. Also, there were two 50-ft-wide canals that we had to cross. We did not know how to swim but we would tie bamboo sticks to our feet. On our way back, we would run back 10 km. Everyday, we would cover 20 km. So I have seen a lot of hardship. I hope today's generation will be inspired by this film. During Partition, my parents, my brother and sisters were killed before my eyes.