image courtesy of 3 Bollywood Queens
A few weeks back I was following a thread on Quora, (you know, as you do) when someone asked an interesting question about whether the love story between Milkha Singh and Stella actually did happen. It was referencing the scene in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag where Singh (Farhan Aktar) has a romantic fling with an Australian girl (played by Rebecca Breeds) while in Melbourne for the1956 Olympics, which adds a touch of non-traditional spice to the movie. The movie is happily flowing along, tra la la la, and then BHAM! It’s Farhan Aktar, making out with this white girl. And then waking up next to her. You get the idea.
Truth be told I was rather surprised that the scene was in the movie at all. I would have thought that it might have portrayed a more negative image of the national hero than I would have expected, on top of which Indian-Anglo (let alone Indian-Australian) relationships can be looked down on rather severely. Short of highlighting Singh’s recommitting himself to his training as an athlete, I did not see the point, and initially I was quite pleased to see a mainstream film embracing (literally and figuratively) the concept of a multi-ethnic romantic couple on screen.
The more I thought about it however, the more I reached an alternate conclusion. In the movie, we see Singh’s relationships with three separate women, and how they each in turn were impacted by the athlete’s determination to reach his goals. The traditional and eminently suitable Biro (played by a rather pretty if perhaps under utilized Sonam Kapoor) is his first, and most lasting encouragement, a muse of sorts who propels Milkha to make a name for himself as a runner. Stella, on the other hand, is the corrupting influence while Singh is in Australia, distracting him from his mission, and thus causing him to lose crucial focus at the Olympics. By the time Perizaad comes along (Meesha Shafi), Singh is so driven and narrowly focusing on his goals for the 1960 Rome Olympics, that he won’t even give her the time of day. Most importantly, the most racy scene in the movie is with a white woman, which does nothing to counter the prevailing stereotype in India that all white women are incredibly easy.
Now, I may be reading too much into it, as I am probably more inclined to feel offense at the slightest negative reference to white women as a general rule. But when considering that most of the Bollywood films I’ve seen relegate white women to scantily clad back up dancers, it’s hard not leaping to that conclusion.
Plus, I don’t know about you guys, but the dance sequence for “Slow Motion Angreza” made me seriously cringe. And I’m not even Australian.