Saturday, November 19, 2011

Film Major: "Marathon Boy"

Fame and fortune have led to many tragic downfalls. None are quite as evident as the reality inflicted in Gemma Atwal's extremely captivating documentary, "Marathon Boy." The old aphorism, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," couldn't ring more true in the handling of "child prodigy," Budhia Singh. Although, as the film wears on; sometimes good intentions are better than the alternative; bad intentions.

The idea of anyone under the age of 18 running a marathon is pretty farfetched here in the United States. For the most part, I would imagine this would ring true internationally. So the thought that Budhia Singh had run 48 marathons by the age of four seems pretty sick. Who would put him up to this?

Coach Biranchi Das
The answer to that question was his adoptive father, and coach, Biranchi Das. Das ran an ophanage by the name of Judo Hall and coached the best judo competitors in India. Das took Budhia on when Singh's birth mother could no longer care for the child. Das allowed her to visit Budhia whenever she wished. Das also took in many orphans over the years and claimed to never take any government assistance to help pay for their needs.

As Budhia began to gain more fame and notoriety, his mother began to get the idea that Das was gaining large sums of money from other countries for Budhia's performances. Ultimately, she kidnapped Budhia from Judo Hall and threatened violence against Das if he were to try and get him back.

This is where the idea of who the villain is begins to change. To the average person, watching Budhia complete the 42 mile run from Puri to Bhubaneswar was more than exhausting. It comes off as borderline child abuse when Das encourages him to run another 1.8 miles to the stadium. When Budhia pukes up all the water and looks unresponsive, you feel like maybe he does need to be taken from Das.

Budhia was a true child star
Then you see the alternative as he lives in the slums with his mom and her brainwashing boyfriends. They convince Budhia to tell authorities that Das abused him. Das was jailed. Ultimately, those claims were proven false and Das was acquitted of all wrongdoing. Not long after his release, Das was murdered (at Judo Hall). Many think that it stemmed Das's rise to power and potentially was linked to the government. His killers have been jailed for life, but conspiracy theories live on.

As for Singh, he has continued running and has been given a scholarship to continue attending private schooling. He's still only nine years old, so it will be some time before the rest of the world sees if he truly has the talent to become an Olympic marathoner.

"Marathon Boy" was funded by HBO and BBC Storyville and is on HBO and HBO On Demand right now. I highly encourage checking it out. There's a trust fund to save Judo Hall in Das's absence as well. Pick up "Marathon Boy" on here.

Check out the Marathon Boy website here and their Twitter account here. There was an excellent follow-up article on Budhia a few weeks ago on as well.

Here's the trailer:

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