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Marathon Boy - Movie Review - 2011

Can This Be Right?

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Marathon Boy - Movie Review - 2011

Marathon Boy - Poster Art

At age four, Budhia Singh, a child born into abject poverty in Orissa, India, is running full marathons and hopes to be join India's Olympics team, and win glory for his country and his trainer, Biranchi Das. Filmmaker Gemma Atwal bares witness to this child prodigy athlete's life and circumstances. Although the film focuses on a boy's athletic prowess, it also looks deeply into the subjects of child exploitation, media influence and corruption in modern India.

A Look At The Realities of Poverty

Budhia was born into poverty in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. When he was scant more than a toddler, Budhia's mother sold him into servitude with a local worker. From this painful phase in his life, Budhia was rescued by Biranchi Das, a do-gooder who ran an orphanage for slum kids that was attached to a judo school.

Budhia is a wild and willful child, and Biranchi has his hands full trying to get him to behave. Biranchi noticed Budhia's talent for running long distances when he ordered the boy to run as a punishment for using bad language. Budhia began running at 6 AM and ran without stopping until 1 PM. Biranchi realized this was extraordinary and recognized Budhia as a prodigy. He began training the boy as a long distance runner, and before Budhia was 5 years old, he'd run 48 full marathons.

At the same time, Biranchi was promoting the child in the media as a homegrown athletic hero, and Budhia quickly became famous.

When Budhia ran, he was watched and cheered on by masses of people. He was absolutely adored by the public.

Budhia was well taken care of by Biranchi Das, who also became famous as Budhia's trainer and guardian. Biranchi and Budhia developed a very close strong father-son relationship thar culminated in Biranchi legally adopting Budhia.

But, the boy's body wasn't strong and sufficiently developed to for him to sustain the rigorous running schedule set for him. When he collapsed while attempting to finish a world record 65-kilometer run -- at the age of four -- people begin to question Biranchi Das' true motives for raising Budhia, and authorities stepped in to investigate Biranchi Das' treatment of the boy.

Essential Questions About Child Support and Exploitation

Is Biranchi Das the savior of young Budhia or is he guilty of horrendous child exploitation and abuse? Atwal's film, which is presented without voice over narration, doesn't answer that question. And, that one of the reasons why this film is so profoundly moving and engaging. You see how much Biranchi Das cares for Budhia, and he has in fact rescued the boy from virtual slavery. At the same time, he indoctrinated and pushed Budhia in a way that seems to be another form of enslavement.

There are no easy answers to questions this film raises about Budhia's welfare or, for that matter, that of all children who are born into circumstances that give them little or no chance to experience a normal -- if there is such a thing -- childhood.

However, Marathon Boy does have a denouement, and when the film bows out of Budhia's life, the child's welfare is being supervised to some extent by authorities. But, no spoilers here. You'll have to see the film to learn Budhia's full story, get a picture of his true athletic gifts, and find out what the future holds for him.

Cinematic Style

Atwal's cinema verite approach shows us very clearly what life is like in India's slums, especially for kids. She uses no voice over narration, and lets the story tell itself through footage of events and interviews with Budhia, Biranchi Das and others involved in the story. She began following Budhia's story early on, and can use her own footage to really show what this child and those around him have gone through. From time to time, she uses brief animated sequences -- presented with shadow puppets -- to underscore essential points or make transitions between scenes.

Marathon Boy is a beautifully made and deeply unsettling film. You won't soon forget the story, and will spend a lot of time thinking about Budhia and his fate, and the fate of other kids who, like Budhia, are born into poverty.

If You Like This Film, You May Also Like:

Budhia Runs A Marathon


Film Details:

  • Title: Marathon Boy
  • Director: Gemma Atwal
  • Release Date: November 4, 2011 (HBO Broadcast)
  • Running Time: 98 mins.
  • Parental Guidance: Advisory for Parental Guidance for content, language.
  • Location: Orissa, India
  • Language: English and Oriya with English subtitles
  • Production Country: USA
  • Production Companies: One Horse Town Productions, Regegade Pictures
  • Distribution Company: HBO
  • Official Website
  • Trailer

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