Paan Singh Tomar

One of the finest biopics in the history of Indian Cinema

Irrfan Khan as 'Paan Singh Tomar'

I still remember, when I was young and used to go to Kolkata during my summer vacations by Gitanjali or Bombay Mail, we used cross the valleyof Chambal. Whenever, that strip used to come, my dad always used to tell me that this once used to be known as the land of dacoits but that time the only dacoit I used to know was Phoolan Devi, and till that time to me the only image of a dacoit was that of the cult character Gabbar Singh played by Amjad Khan.

Years later, Shekhar Kapoor told us a story of a queen….Queen of Chambal….with his film The Bandit-Queen. Anyway, if we see, bollywood is not really known for its biopics, so there were few biopics in Indian Film industry and very few had actually blown our minds. But the latest release Paan Singh Tomar directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia has taken Kapoor’s legacy further and told us an unheard story.

You seriously wonder when you see a film like Paan Singh Tomar as to why was it sitting in the cans when it’s been ready for quite a while now. And then to make things worse, it gets released in an ultra low key manner without even adequate publicity. If this is the value and respect given to better cinema in Bollywood, it just shows we will never go beyond the pitiful star driven Housefulls and Golmaals.

The film starts from the beginning of Paan Singh’s career, when he joined the army in the 50s. 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.

The supporting cast is brilliantly cast and spot on. Still, special mention must be made of Vipin Sharma as Tomar’s Commanding Officer and Brijendra Kala, the latter as a terrified journalist who interviews the dreaded dacoit Paan Singh Tomar and through whose interview we see Tomar’s journey. Zakir Hussain delivers with his small cameo. However, Mahie Gill is now getting typecast as the spunky, sultry woman and seems to stick out amongst the cast, always ‘acting’.

The technicalities go well with the film and here one has to again mention the attention paid to detail and the superb use of real locations. However, the editing is a bit too razor sharp and even jerky at times when just a little more holding on could have given that reflective feeling far better. The demands in keeping the rapid pace set up by the first half, perhaps?

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 is a film that should be watched mostly for Irrfan Khan and also for its story.

Ratings: * * * */5

One Comment Add yours

  1. Anuvrat Bhansali says:

    Totally agree. This is the cinema we should aspire for. Biopics really click with the right casting and the actors have taken this brilliant movie a notch up. Would you agree that only a bad guy’s life makes a great biopic?

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