Paan Singh Tomar
Dir: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Mahie Gill
Stars: **** (out of 5)
Biopics are a tricky field. Even though the maker has an advantage of a compelling story to tell, it's also a big burden to bear. The real life story of the soldier and master athlete-turned-dacoit Paan Singh Tomar is an interesting one to put it mildly, and thankfully it fell into the deft hands of Tigmanshu Dhulia.
Paan Singh Tomar was an army man who from 1958 represented India and was a seven time national champion in Steeplechase.
Tomar is a simple man who gets into army for the love of his motherland and gets into sports for the love of food. When his cousins get together to usurp his land, and when the local cops refuse to help him, Paan Singh is pushed against the wall and is forced to turn into a dacoit.
Tigmanshu Dhulia, who got well versed with the once dacoit infested areas of Chambal while assisting Shekhar Kapoor for Bandit Queen, has evidently done enough research on the man to present a confident uptake on his life.
The film which is mostly shot in the rough terrains of the Chambal and the actual army barracks in Rourkey, sticks to reality as best as it can. Even the humour that is consistent through the film, is also rooted and real. The local dialect used liberally, adds to the realism, but since it is difficult to understand it easily, slows down the film a pace or two.
Irrfan Khan breathes life into Paan Singh Tomar. From a simple, endearing but somewhat stubborn man to a confident athlete to an aggressive dacoit, Irrfan lives the character as his own. He makes the transition from an earnest young soldier to an able sportsman to a helpless farmer and finally to a dacoit, with commendable smoothness and confidence. Mahie Gill as Tomar's wife and other characters have nothing much to do, but nobody's complaining as Irrfan's compelling performance makes it difficult to take eyes off him.
Perhaps a tad longer and slower than it should ideally have been, but Paan Singh Tomar is unmissable. In this cricket-obsessed country, many talented men who excelled in other forms of sports have died lonely and penniless. This is Dhulia's perfect tribute to them and perhaps a wake-up call for all of us. Now that our hockey team is going great guns, this couldn't have come at a better time.