this article was first published on burrp!
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Mahie Gill, Zakir Hussain, Nawazuddin
There was a time when actors like Sunil Dutt made dacoits glamorous. Their larger than life characters had a heart of gold underneath the tough bodies. The time changed and ferocious Gabbar Singh took over. The almost animal like daaku terrorized Ramgarh for the longest time. Years later Jageera in China Gate attempted a Gabbar Singh but ended up being nothing more than a mockery. Shekhar Kapoor helped shed the glam quotient with his true-to-life depiction of The Bandit Queen.
With the latest release in the same genre director Tigmanshu Dhulia (Haasil fame ) has taken Kapoor’s legacy further and told us an unheard story.
Paan Singh Tomar joined the army in the 1950s. He hailed from Chambal and according to him the dacoits are actually good people who turned rebels. In his own words, “beehad mein baagi hote hain, dacait toh Parliament mein hote hain”. Afraid of his rebellious instinct and seeing his exceptional running abilities his seniors shift him to the sports department. He runs for the country till he plans to take a voluntary retirement to take care of his kheti.
Rest of the film is a transition of an Army Subedar to a national level athlete and finally a dreaded name in the valleys of Chambal. What triggers this transition is the cunning cousin who wants to take over his land, destroys his crop and tries to kill his family. The police and the system offer no help leaving him with no choice than to take the matters in his own hands. The man who was denied the opportunity to fight in the war (because he was a sportsperson) picks up the gun for revenge. The rebel in him who is suppressed comes out in the second half of the film. Paan Singh is no Robinhood, he kills for revenge and kidnaps for money.
The film also throws a light on the poor conditions of our national level athletes, the unsung heroes who died an unknown death.
Irrfan Khan is Tigmanshu Dhulia’s lucky charm. He was a thunderbolt in Haasil and is nothing less than that in this one. All those who have seen him grow from Banegi Apni Baat should be extremely proud. His Paan Singh Tomar commands respect and makes you sympathize with him just through his expressive eyes. Nawazuddin appears in a small role but after his critically acclaimed role in Peepli Live this one doesn’t do justice to his acting abilities.
What makes this film special is Tigmanshu Dhulia’s love for the raw appeal. He inspires you to look beneath the polished layer. His characters, locations and language are crude. He does not try to refine them for your viewing pleasure.
Paan Singh Tomar with all its shortcomings (read stretched second half, off sync dubbing, occasional dramatic dialogues) is a film that should be watched mostly for Irrfan Khan and also for its story.