Budhia Singh: Found, Lost, and Found
By Subhransu Panda, Bhubaneswar
March 2016, as Hindi movie Duranta bagged national award in Best Children’s Film category, we all were again reminded of the marathon tot Budhia Singh, the world’s youngest marathon runner listed in the Limca book of records in the year 2006. The biopic is ready to hit cinemas August 5 with a different name, ‘Budhia Singh – Born to Run‘.
In 2005, I had just started working with a not-so-big daily newspaper in Bhubaneswar. By that time Budhia was already famous for his marathon wonders and was drawing the attention of both national and international media. Vernacular dailies, here in Odisha, were carrying news on the then three-year-old Budhia almost every day. Our newspaper was not an exception. I can’t recall, perhaps it was the 7th or 8th day of my first job. I was asked to write a special feature on Budhia.
Somehow I managed to get Budhia’s coach and savior Biranchi Das’s contact number. I spoke to him and fixed an appointment with Budhia. The very next day morning hopping on my photographer’s Luna moped I reached Judo hall managed by coach Mr. Das and his wife at Kalpana square(Bhubaneswar). Young pupils were practicing judo. My eyes were scanning the whole coaching center in search of three years old Budhia, but he was not there. Even Biranchi Das was not present there. We were waiting on a wooden bench. Someone offered us tea. Almost after half an hour, they entered the Judo Hall. Both Biranchi and Budhia were dripping with sweat and breathing heavily. We were greeted by Biranchi Das. He told us that they were practicing running everyday morning. I looked at the marathon boy. I didn’t believe my eyes that this thin and ill-looked boy could make any wonder. We chatted for well over an hour. When I asked any question to Budhia, he was unable to answer. Coach Mr. Das answered most of our questions. At times Budhia was being prompted by his coach. His pitch was very low and he couldn’t speak clearly. I was not so happy with my story published that weekend.
But just after 7-8 months in May 2006 Budhia actually did the wonder, that, no kid of that age hadn’t done. He ran 65 kilometers continuously for 7 hours from Bhubaneswar to Puri with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and was listed as the world’s youngest marathon runner in the Limca book of records in the year 2006.
The Rise of Budhia Singh
Coach Biranchi Das was also an orphanage runner. Singh was born in 2002 to a poor family in Odisha. His father died in his early age. Because of poverty Singh’s mother sold him to a traveling salesman for 800 INR in 2004. Because of the ill-treatment thereafter, his mother sought out Biranchi Das and asked him to take the boy on. Biranchi paid back the salesman the 800 and Budhia came to live with Biranchi Das and the rest of the orphans under Biranchi’s charge, at the local Judo Hall. One day, Biranchi Das caught him being a “saucy lad”. He punished him by making him run, but then forgot about him; he returned after five hours and Budhia was still running. After a medical checkup, his heart was found to be normal even after running for hours. He then began to train Budhia to run marathons. By the age of four, Budhia had run and completed 48 marathons.
Budhia’s running ability has led to celebrity status and he has appeared in a number of television commercials. These commercials and Budhia’s fame allegedly led to significant financial gains on the part of Biranchi Das, Budhia’s coach, which led to accusations of exploitation against Mr. Das, and an official inquiry by Indian child welfare officials was launched on 4 January 2006; however, Mr. Das refuted the allegations.
Biranchi Das was shot dead at Bhubaneswar on the evening of 13 April 2008. According to police, “Das, a judo coach, was sitting inside the judo center in BJB College area along with some of his friends after a training session when the assailants struck”. Although Biranchi had many sympathizers he had also lots of opponents, however, the murder of Biranchi had nothing to do with the difficulties he had to make Budhia Singh run long distances. Biranchi was murdered after he upset Raja Acharya by reportedly trying to defend the model Leslie Tripathy, who was allegedly being harassed by the gangster Raja. The murder of Biranchi shocked the whole nation, during the search of the murderers (Raja and Chagala) it became clear that Raja had murdered more than 60 people before and bribed hundreds of officers and administrators during his criminal career.
On 13 December 2010 Bhubaneswar fast track court found the murderers guilty, and final sentence was passed on 17 December 2010. Both Sandeep Acharya, alias Raja, and his associate, Akshaya Behera, alias Chagala, were sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment.
With the murder of Biranchi Das, Budhia’s starhood almost came to an end. He was sent to sports hostel. With other inmates in sports hostel now the 14-year-old Budhia leads a normal student life.
Budhia Singh Found Again
A feature-length documentary called Marathon Boy was released in 2011 covering Budhia and Das for five years starting in 2006. The documentary was funded by HBO & BBC Storyville. In the film, Budhia makes a withdrawal of his accusations against Das. The film Marathon Boy (2011) was nominated for an EMMY.
In 2016 Hindi movie Budhia Singh – Born to Run on Budhia’s life bagged national award. In this movie directed by Soumendra Padhi, celebrated Bollywood actor Manoj Vajpayee plays the role of coach Biranchi Das. The film, produced by Viacom18 Motion Pictures and Code Red Film Productions, also stars Tillotama Shome and Master Mayur(as Budhia).
Just before release, the production team changed the name of the movie. Director Soumendra Padhi says, “Suggestion for a name change came from our marketing head. Like most of the biopics, we too decided to give Budhia’s name in the movie title. ‘Duranta’ does not represent the clear idea of the Biopic unlike ‘Budhia Singh – Born to Run’. That’s why we made a last minute name change. I hope this decision is a good one as the name Budhia Singh will address the audience easily.”
The movie came to limelight after the announcement of this year’s National Award. With the movie, almost after 10 years of his international stardom Budhia Singh came to limelight again and his forgotten past is also being spotlighted now.
Irony, 14 years old Budhia still leading a normal student life in Kalinga Stadium sports hostel with other inmates and his mother still lives in that slum and works as a daily wage labourer for a living.
Perhaps Budhia needs another father figure like Late Biranchi Das to inspire him again.
Subhransu Panda is an Author and Journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com / 9338655845