Overstepping the ‘border’ for a cause…

[Rating: 3.25]

Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Mahie Gill, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Imran Hasnee, Vipin Sharma

Synopsis: Paan Singh Tomar was an athlete who ruled the steeplechase event at the Indian National Games for 7 years in a row and whose record stood unbeaten for 10 years, but, he became even more (in)famous when he gave up his running shoes and went on to become a dacoit and wreaked havoc in the Chambal Valley in Madhya Pradesh. Paan Singh Tomar is the true epic journey of a talented athlete turned rebel.

Review: Stories about rebellions and upheavals have a different yet zestful feel to them. While you may want to relate with the protagonist at a certain level, you find that it is quite a daunting task for someone who is born without that ‘rebellious streak’. While we seen many films based on rebellion, leaving the viewers befuddled with pressing questions about their role in today’s society, only a few leaders/ revolutionaries are spoken about for positive reasons for many years hence. Take the likes of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Che Guevara who fought it out against the system to make their point proven. Unfortunately, a revolutionary’s life span is decided by those in power, so that may answer the question about how none of the ‘hot-blooded’ youngsters lived very long. The league of these extraordinary gentlemen is endless, but there are only a few takers. You may want to ask yourself if non-violence or to put it better, adopting the Gandhian technique is helpful at all.
Nonetheless, many filmmakers have capitalized on these stories and some of these patriotic stories have been quite successful, both in terms of moral and monetary gains. To name a few, “The Legend of Bhagat Singh”, “Rang De Basanti” among others. Of course, there are many, but the two mentioned prior, have made quite an impact in the recent times.

Paan Singh Tomar is one such film to have joined the “leadership turned rebellion” category. Tigmanshu Dhulia has proven his mettle by bringing a story to screens that is a biopic of sorts. ‘Cause we knew nothing about the armyman-sportsperson-rebel/dacoit Paan Singh Tomar until this story was told. And might I say, what a good and enjoyable one this was. Fantastic direction, great background music, emotions intact from beginning to end not to forget Irrfan Khan’s acting prowess, Dhulia had all the elements to make a superhit. The trailers however, were a trifle misguiding. While it seemed this film would only appeal to a certain class of people, the reality was a far-cry from what was shown initially on the television.

An immense amount of homework and hard work goes into making a film such as this. An article read how the director of this film had dreamt of executing this film after being inspired from the story told as village folklore while shooting for “Bandit Queen”, the biopic on Phoolan Devi in early 90s. Dhulia is comfortable with experimenting with any kind of terrain to shoot his movies. Known best for films that have gained critical acclaim namely "Haasil" and "Charas", his audiences always have a new story to see. The last film by Tigmanshu Dhulia, "Saheb Biwi aur Gangster" was an adaptation of Guru Dutt’s classic, “Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam” (1962) and once again, it appealed to it’s designated TG.

Irrfan Khan is a very fine actor and there hasn’t been a single time wherein he hasn’t made his presence felt in any of the roles he has portrayed on the big screen. He is one of the few who have a certain aura about themselves, you just cannot miss them. Mahie Gill is slowly proving to be a good actress but she belongs to the genre of the offbeat. Commercial cinema shall do less justice to her, especially ’cause she has ‘crossed-over’ from a different film industry (Punjabi) to enter the Hindi film industry. This film had little for her to do.
Coming back to the film and its technicalities, the story is well-connected, all strung together in a bead-like formation. From Paan Singh’s life as an army personnel to becoming an outlaw, wonderfully portrayed and narrated at places by Irrfan Khan himself in his thick drawl. Interestingly, a few men from a local theatre group of Morena gave a voice-over for the film to maintain the raw dialect of Madhya Pradesh’s villages in order to keep the authenticity alive. When a crew is so involved in putting a film such as this together, it shouts out plain and simple effort. So Paan Singh’s life in the army was shown with much truth and conviction, just like his life later as a dacoit in the Chambal Valley. Also, it has been said in jest “hum Chambal ke dakoo hai” in many films, but only this film showed a wee-bit of truth in the reality behind that truth/myth.

This film deserves a standing ovation – it was entertaining, real and painful. A sportsperson (in this case, a 7 time national champion in the 3000 mt. Steeplechase Race) who spends his life being a true patriot should not be resorted to such negligence at the part of the authorities. Afterall, it isn’t just one person or one body (as in governing body) who is accountable to bring about a considerable change in how things function. This was indeed, a tribute to the unsung heroes of the sporting world in India. 

Verdict: Immense food for thought and an answer to the unanswered silent protests. Voicing intelligent opinions is needed.

Saumya Sharma

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