PAAN SINGH TOMAR – My thoughts

Once in a while comes along a movie out of the blue that really makes you stand up and take notice. It commands your attention, your senses and respects them. Paan Singh Tomar is one such movie.

PST essentially is the biopic of an army recruit cum athlete who turns into a notorious bandit in the valleys of Chambal due to circumstances beyond his control. But as the titular character reiterates, they are not dacoits but baaghis (rebels) and no one is a baaghi by choice. As he states, such is the irony of his life that being a medal winning sportsman kept him anonymous but kidnapping and murder makes him famous.

Narrated in flashback to a nervous reporter played very well by Bijendra Kala, the first half looks at PST’s early days in the army and transition to an athlete becoming a 7 time national champion in the steeple chase race. And finally when injustice is meted out to his family over a land dispute, he is forced to take up arms to defend them.

The second half shows his rise as a feared bandit building his gang of dacoits, taking revenge against those who harmed his family and his encounters with other gangs and the law.

Tigmanshu Dhulia, who worked with Shekhar Kapoor on Bandit Queen shows his expertise in filming the rustic terrains of Chambal, beautifully captured by Aseem Mishra’s camera. Abhishek Ray and Sandeep Chowta’s music especially elevates the athletic portions in the first half. The language and dialect used in the film lend a very authentic feel to the proceedings.

But the film belongs to one man. Already a terrific actor with some memorable performances below his belt, Irrfan lives Paan Singh Tomar. Spanning a character from 1950 to 1981 is no mean achievement but Irrfan is so convincing. The transition from a frail young naive but honest army athlete to a helpless angry bandit is portrayed brilliantly. He breathes fire into every scene and delivers a physical and powerful performance and an epic titular character who you feel for and root for. Watch out for the scene where his superior sends a slab of ice cream for him. Rarely does an actor give so much into a role yet never seeming over the top.

The film pays tribute to Indian sportsmen who have faded away into nothingness, poverty and illness towards the end of their lives thus making it relevant and topical.

Paan Singh Tomar is Indian cinema at its purest. It’s not Bollywood. It is raw, rugged, rustic and rooted. And unmissable.

My score: 8 on 10

  • Paan Singh Tomar
  • Running time: 135 mins approx
  • Starring: Irrfan
  • Directed by: Tigmanshu Dhulia

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