The long ride home

The response to Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster has given an impetus to Tigmanshu Dhulia to continue making 'different' films. Before he launches into its sequel, the filmmaker talks about the release of his much-delayed Irrfan Khan-starrer Paan Singh Tomar based on the true story of an athlete who became a dacoit

Do you consider the good response to Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster last year as a turning point for your career?
Yes. But I had the same conviction and confidence in myself even when I made my first film. It is just that the perception of the industry has changed. My destiny is changing.

Irrfan Khan plays Paan Singh Tomar, a steeplechase
champion who became a dacoit

You must also be a relieved man now that your pet project Paan Singh Tomar is finally releasing?
Oh yes, very much. The movie has been ready since a year and a half. It was sent to the London Film Festival, and Abu Dhabi, South-Asian and New York film festivals where we got fantastic reviews. Some people felt that it was better than Bandit Queen. But (producers) UTV Motion Pictures thought this was the right time to release the film because last year, there were so many big movies.

But won't it look a bit dated now?
Had it been a modern movie, it would have looked dated. But it is a period film, which starts from the 1950s and continues till the 1980s, so it will not look dated at all.

Where did the idea of making Paan Singh Tomar come from?
While assisting Shekhar Kapur on Bandit Queen I chanced upon an article on Paan Singh Tomar in a Sunday magazine. He was a subedar in the Indian army who became a steeplechase champion and retained that title for seven years. Then, because of an incident in his village, he had to pick up the gun and become a dacoit. I was interested and decided that I would definitely make a film on him when I became a director. However, I needed to do some research and unlike Hollywood, producers here don't spend money for the development of scripts. But when I mentioned it to Vikas Bahl, former head of UTV Spotboy, he immediately agreed to fund my research.

What research did the film entail?
I met Paan Singh's relatives, his wife, son, nephew, and the person leading the encounter in which Paan Singh was killed. Since he was an athlete, I met Milkha Singh, and his other colleagues. Most of them are so old, they don't remember much. But it was interesting. I met dacoits too.

How true have you been to the subject?
We had to rely a little on fiction because we could not get much personal information. His wife is a very traditional woman and she can't talk about her personal life in detail. I have not made a documentary on Paan Singh Tomar.

How different is Paan Singh Tomar from earlier dacoit films like Bandit Queen, Ganga Jamuna and Sholay?
In the earlier Hindi films, the dacoit was glamourised into this larger-than-life personality riding horses. I have not romanticised the dacoit in Paan Singh Tomar. In reality, dacoits never rode horses. The terrain doesn't allow horses because of the ravines. All their lives, dacoits were on foot, like in Bandit Queen.

Was Irrfan Khan your first choice to play the role?
Always. Any actor would have said yes to a character like Paan Singh. But no other actor would have done justice to it. Also, we needed someone of a higher discipline because this role involved a lot of sweat. Irrfan had to leave other projects, and cancel shoots because he was in continuity for this film.

Where did you shoot?
The entire dacoit portion was shot in the Chambal Valley. It was exciting to shoot there. Some places were not accessible by car, so we had to walk.

What is the status on the Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster sequel?
We are working on the script right now. Irrfan, Jimmy Shergill, Mahie Gill and Randeep Hooda are part of it. I want to start shooting in April. The audience liked the original because not many films are set in that world; so I will retain that. But I will try to be more opulent this time.

Bollywood News Service

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