Stop right there. Don’t Google “Marathon Boy.” Don’t Google “Budhia Singh” and for Godssakes don’t even type “Biranchi Das” into your search bar lest you ruin one of the strangest, most provocative and debatable documentaries in recent memory.
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Director Gemma Atwal spent five years following the complex relationship between Budhia, the Slumdog Prefontaine who became the most famous toddler in India by running six half-marathons by the age of four, and his foster father Biranchi, the trainer-turned-national controversy.
What begins as a heartwarmer of a story about a precocious boy plucked out of the slums to become a national icon takes a slow turn into troublesome territory as Budhia is pushed into performing increasingly radical runs in front of thousands of admirers lining the streets and hordes of media cameras, all lassoed in by Biranchi, a born PR wizard embraced by the people as an inspiration and labeled by the government’s child welfare agencies as a possible child exploiter.
Atwai does an admirable job of constructing a colorful think-piece out of complex questions about objective versus subjective truths, questionable intentions, media’s influence and the nature of poverty in the slums of India. More so, the director should be applauded for providing a removed, impartial take on the hotly-debated wonderboy, provoking questions and, thankfully, never once editorializing. The movie’s wild and the ending is a top-tier shocker. But the conversations after the lights come up are great.
Just stay away from Google.
I give it 3.5 out of 5 on the painful running blister scale.
“Marathon Boy” screens again this afternoon at 1:45 p.m. in Riverdale #2.