Paan Singh Tomar is a fictional-film inspired by true events. The film is based on the national steeple¬chase champion who quit the army to become a dreaded dacoit of the Chambal Valley. Irrfan Khan plays Paan Singh Tomar. The two lives of Paan Singh Tomar, in the army as a celebrated sportsperson and as an outlaw on the run in the Chambal valley are brought together in a blend of the brilliant and the haunting.
Tomar is an army subedaar who gets into athletics simply because sportsmen get more to eat. After a race, the first thing he does is grab and devour a bunch of bananas. Tomar keeps his faith in the system and doesn’t resort to violence until a lethargic, blatantly corrupt cop refuses to register his complaint and instead asks Tomar, who has travelled abroad for sporting competitions, why foreigners wear such few clothes. Hurt and angry, Tomar wonders: Desh ke liye faltu bhagey kya? (“Did I run for my country for nothing ?).
Tomar was a steeplechase runner. Not that it made any difference to his destiny. In the army for the long innings Tomar, we are told, took voluntary retirement to look after his family and land in his native village. Tomar sprints over hurdles with breathtaking ease and eventually displays the same stubborn determination while murdering men who have robbed him of his ancestral land.
He resorts to violence only because he is provoked but subsequently, he seems oddly at ease with his criminality. Abandoning the manageable hurdles of the steeplechase Tomar took to the gun to avenge the wrong done to his family. There are hurdles, and hurdles. And some impossible to overcome.
There are moments of genuine pathos. Tomar’s wounded declaration to a journalist that despite being a seven-time National Games winner, he remained anonymous, till he achieved fame through murder and kidnapping.Ultimately, he meets the inevitable fate of a bandit and his body riddled with bullets, collapses into the dusty ground. However there is something heroic about him.
As we see names of real-life athletes who died unsung flash across the screen at the end of Paan Singh Tomar we realise what we’ve just witnessed in the past 190 minutes of taut playing-time is not just film. It’s a treatise on what destiny has in store for people who do not conform to socially-acceptable definitions of success. Indeed Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar typifies that criminal neglect of all athletes in our country barring cricketers who, as we all know by now, are grossly overrated sportsperson.
The beauty of watching Irrfan transform into Tomar is the seamless leap the actor takes into the character. Irrfan is blessed with first-rate supporting actors, many of whom we haven’t seen much on screen before. They add to the film’s high level of authenticity by just not looking like and speaking their lines like actors. The scenes showing Irrfan running with other actors are beautifully captured as moments of metaphorical significance. Somewhere down the line the scenes showing Tomar jumping over hurdles on the race track merge into the larger picture to tell us, life on field and life outside the race track have one thing in common. You have to keep running, no matter what the odds.
Much of the credit for the film’s sledgehammer effect goes to Irrfan Khan’s central performance. As Paan Singh Irrfan is in one word, flawless. There is not a single shot in the film that he gets wrong. He follows his character’s destiny with an intuitive alertness that leaves no room for ambiguity in the interpretation of the character’s complex life.
Irrfan Khan speaks about the rigourous training he underwent to learn the steeplechase, under the guidance of the national coach, Mr. Satpal for his role in the movie.
Tomar was a confrère of Phoolan Devi. Naturally then, we see some of the same motifs – the spidery curves of the ravines that seem to swallow up the dacoits, their habit of announcing their presence on loudspeakers, a massacre that leads to a police clampdown. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s training as the raconteur of a tale of social injustice and damnifying outlawry, also goes back to the director’s association with Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen. He was casting director on Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen. In interviews, he has said that he first heard about Paan Singh Tomar while working on that film. Intrigued that Tomar was largely forgotten despite holding several records, he resolved to make a film about his life. Dhulia researched the film’s background for two years, interviewing Tomar’s surviving family members and visiting his native village in Bhind.
Paan Singh Tomar is technically polished with the editing of Aarti Bajaj and the background score by Sandeep Chowta adds a dimension beyond the drama of a driven athlete. Cinematographer Aseem Mishra also provides an intriguing blend of a bleeding authenticity and a poetic resplendence. A word on the stunning soundtrack. From snatches of old Lata Mangeshkar melodies to radio announcements on Nargis Dutt’s demise, time passages are achieved through incidental snatches of voices caught in mid-air.
‘PAAN SINGH TOMAR’ TEAM ESTABLISHES
CHARITABLE TRUST FOR RETIRED ATHLETES & SPORTPERSONS
A biopic on the life of athlete-turned-outlaw Paan Singh Tomar has made its makers aware of their social responsibility. They are set to establish a charitable trust to look after retired, out-of-favour athletes and sportpersons. The film’s director Tigmanshu Dhulia, lead actor Irrfan Khan and producers UTV Motion Pictures are spearheading the trust, which is being called SOS – Save Our Sportspersons. Dhulia laments the state of former athletes in the country.
“Not everyone is as fortunate as Milkha Singh. We met so many athletes and sportspersons who either died due to poverty or are living wretched lives. “Four-time Olympics hockey gold medalist Shankar Laxman died due to lack of medical attention. K.D. Yadav, the 1952 Olympics bronze medalist, died penniless. Sarwan Singh, the 1954 Asian Games gold medalist, had to sell his medal for money. “Asian Games gold medal winner Parduman Singh died penniless. We want to do something to help such people before it’s too late,” he added. Dhulia says the move to initiate a trust for needy athletes arose from megastar Amitabh Bachchan’s concern for them, after he watched ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. “He saw the film and grew very concerned about how we treat our sportspersons. We’ve of course been thinking about these unfortunate sportspersons all through the making of our own.”Our initiative towards helping athletes who have fallen on hard times comes from him,” he said. Armed with the determination to get this project on the way, Dhulia and his team are set to get the SOS project going. Hopefully, Big B would be the face of the project.