Paan Singh Tomar

Paan Singh Tomar

Cast: Irrfan, Vipin Sharma, Mahie Gill, Rajendra Gupta

Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia

Indian Express Ratings:****

How does a national award-winning athlete, feted in India and abroad, turn into a dreaded dacoit? This is the question a trembling local scribe asks of the Most Wanted Paan Singh Tomar, who has willingly submitted himself to this inquisition from his hide-out. 'Aap daaku kaise bane'? 'Baaghi', says Paan Singh reprovingly, 'daaku nahin'. That difference is beautifully, movingly on display in 'Paan Singh Tomar', which shows us how a patriotic 'fauji', upholder of law and order all his life, was forced into crossing over to the other side.

That the newly-recruited jawaan had a prodigious appetite for food his unit discovers soon enough. But that he has an equal talent for running and staying the course and winning is a gift his astounded superiors make the most of : Paan Singh gets turfed out into the 'sports side' of the Army where he is trained for the most difficult race, the steeplechase. He shines on the track, makes his 'coach sir' (Gupta) and his long-time mentor (Sharma) proud. Who knows where Paan Singh would have reached if pressing matters back in his village hadn't drawn him into a never-ending quagmire?

Tigmanshu Dhulia has had a brush with the ravines of the Chambal back when he was in Shekhar Kapur's team for 'Bandit Queen'. Bhind-Morena-Gwalior, home of the dacoits, was where Paan Singh came from, and his pride in his mama (uncle) who 'never got caught by the cops' is a line that embodies the indomitable spirit of this film : history tells us that Paan Singh was captured and killed, but his free-spiritedness was no one's prisoner.

Biopics have never been Bollywood's strong suit. I went into 'Paan Singh' with trepidation, given that Tigmanshu Dhulia has only disappointed with his last few outings, losing himself in the sheer me-too ordinariness of 'Shagird' and the faux badlands of Saheb Biwi aur Gangster'. But this film redeems him, and shows him to be the same man who made the superb 'Haasil'. 'Paan Singh Tomar' is a completely gripping, near-flawless film, with such few dodgy parts as to be negligible. One of which is Mahie Gill who plays Irrfan's unlettered wife, starting shakily but settling into it, giving us glimpses of the girl who was so good in 'Dev D'. The first half has Paan Singh the Army jawaan turning into a champion world-beater; post interval, we see how things change for him, and how he is sent hurtling into the dusty ravines, turning, twisting, never being still, just to keep alive.

... contd.

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