For Manoj Bajpayee, late Biranchi Das was an unsung hero. In his latest offering Budhia Singh: Born to Run, the actor essays the character of Das, a judo coach who discovered Budhia from a slum in Bhubaneswar and made him the world’s youngest marathon runner.
Directed by Bhubaneswar-based Soumendra Padhi, the film is a biopic on Biranchi who honed Budhia’s running skills and the little wonder went ahead to run from Bhubaneswar to Puri, a distance of 65 km, in just seven hours and two minutes in 2006. He was just four then.
Born in a poor family in Odisha, Budhia was sold by his mother for `800 in 2004. The boy then met Biranchi, who also owned an orphanage. “People’s opinion was divided on the process Biranchi adopted to train Budhia, but you cannot deny that he did find out an extremely gifted child from the biggest slum (Salia Sahi) of Bhubaneswar and gave him an identity without any help from the Government,” says Manoj.
When Budhia and Biranchi achieved the Bhubaneswar-Puri feat, a section of intelligentsia accused the latter of exploiting the boy. He lost Budhia’s custody in 2006 and two years later, Biranchi was shot dead in front of his judo training school in Bhubaneswar by a gangster, Raja Acharya. “Today, the voices that criticised Biranchi have fallen silent and Budhia has been left alone. Neither the government nor the critics come forward to help him in achieving his dream of running in the Olympics,” adds Manoj, who had been following the Budhia-Biranchi episode since 2006. “I have always been a news junkie and this particular boy and his coach had caught my attention then.
So when Soumendra came to me with the script, I instantly agreed. I must admit that it is perhaps my best work in the last 22 years of my career,” he says.
The actor is all praises for seven-year-old Mayur, who portrays the role of Budhia. “Mayur, unlike other child actors in the industry, was very focused. I am surprised seeing his level of dedication. He was selected after auditions of 1,200 children. Like Budhia, he comes from a humble background (a slum in Pune) and perhaps this is why he is so dedicated to the craft. In our industry, child actors are so pampered by their parents and production units that they go to the extent of showing tantrums and hampering work,” says Manoj.
The film has been shot in parts of Bhubaneswar and Puri in Odisha. Sharing his memories of working in Bhubaneswar, Manoj recalls that it was in 1990 that he had come to the city first to conduct a week-long theatre workshop for street children. “I remember staying in a modest lodge near the Bhubaneswar railway station then. During shooting the film in Odisha, I was glad to know that Biranchi and Budhia are still alive in the public memory,” he says. The actor hopes that the film would help bring the limelight and government’s attention back on Budhia, who still has the fire in him alive and wants to run marathons.
After Budhia Singh: Born to Run that releases on August 5, Manoj will be seen in Saat Uchakkey and Missing, which will be releasing in September and October respectively.