Tigmanshu Dhulia does it again. After SAHEB, BIWI AUR GANGSTER, he once again comes out with a compelling film. This one's a biopic on India's forgotten athlete, PAAN SINGH TOMAR. In fact, this movie celebrates the forgotten heroes of India's sporting arena, some of who have died in penury.
The first half has you totally in the grip of Dhulia and the main protagonist Irfan Khan, who flawlessly essays a complex role with dexterity. A soldier who moves to the athletic division because that is where he will get to eat more; breaks all national records and competes at the International Level and then after retirement, has to pick up a gun to defend himself. Dhulia takes you the whole circle with Irrfan's PAAN SINGH TOMAR in tow. CHECK OUT: PAAN SINGH TOMAR- Film with a reality touch
Very early on, when Tomar is being interviewed by a journalist he states, 'Dacait to parliament mein milte hain.' This sets the tone for the reels that follow. The process of establishing Paan Singh's plight, his talent and desire to battle on the front, rather than run a race is captured brilliantly. The background score effectively lifts the scene several notches higher; whether it is Paan Singh in a race, staging a kidnapping or even gunning down his opponents.
Unlike SAHEB BIWI AUR GANGSTER when no actor outshines the other, here, Irrfan outdoes himself and the others. The rest, even Mahie Gill, is judiciously used keeping the focus of the film in mind. Everything moves around Paan Singh.
Paan Singh has a natural flair for running. This is seen by his superiors. Coupled with his large appetite, they decide to shift him to the athletics division, where he mesmerizes one and all with his stamina. His coach asks him not to participate in the 5000m race because his daughter's to be brother-in-law will definitely be defeated by Paan Singh. Once the reason is known, Paan Singh responds, 'for you I will even run on fire'. This one scene completely opens up the athlete to the viewer. He is then introduced to steeple chase, a race he makes his own. CHECK OUT: Tigmanshu- PAAN SINGH TOMAR isn't an out and out Chambal dacoit movie
Back home, his relative, 'tauji', has encroached on his land. He tries to talk 'tauji' into giving it back to him. But 'tauji' is backed with muscle power. Left with no option, Paan Singh goes to the local police station with his newspaper cuttings and medals which are thrown out. 'Tauji' has connections even in the local police station. This demeaning of a sportsperson who has come to the law looking for justice is another high-point of the film. As he is returning from the police station, 'tauji' barges into his home. His wife and kids manage to flee, but his mother is killed.
Left with no option, Paan Singh Tomar prepares his own unit to engage in battle, one which he never had the privilege when in the army. Post interval, the film moves into the Chambal Valley where Paan Singh and his dacoits establish base.
In one instance he crosses three states with his gang in different police uniforms to kidnap a politician. That is the saddest day in his life because it makes him more famous then when he was winning medals for India.
Dhulia has carved a niche for himself and has created his own brand of cinema, one which moviegoers look forward to. Two years of research on Paan Singh Tomar got Dhulia shooting in the ravines of Chambal in Dholpur and in the actual barracks the athlete lived in, in Roorkee. Dhulia treats every scene with care. The shooting of the race scenes and the camera angles leave you with goose bumps early on.
Although the film slackens its pace a bit in the second half, the overall charm and aura is maintained. It's difficult for Dhulia to race through since the film has to move at its own pace.
Paan Singh Tomar celebrates sports. It also highlights the apparent jungle we all are living in. Just imagine what his life would have been had his complaint been registered in the police station and was he given the respect due to him.