Cast: Irrfan Khan, Mahie Gill
Directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia
A biopic on a non-public figure is like felicitating a Martian, no one on earth cares. Little known is often the same as little cared for but it could also mean little to compare with. So you have the world to improvise on the character and dress up his life to achieve cinematic victory. And that is just what this film has managed to a large extent with our super ‘daaku’ and national champ, Paan Singh Tomar. While legendary filmy dacoits like Gabbar Singh are remembered for their deliciously daring dialogue-baazi, Paan can be betokened with prefixes like selfless, considerate and even humane, making him as endearing as a ‘daaku’ can get.
Predictably, Paan Singh is a victim of society and unavoidable circumstances push him to pick up his rustic double barrel. And like many other Bollywood baddies, he meets his inglorious end. But the journey of his life makes for a delightful watch. It begins from when he was a lad in the army with an obnoxious appetite. Since the army rations meals, he was advised to sign up for sports where he could gobble down as much as he desired. Although accidental, his break into sports proves to be a boon as he becomes a national-level steeplechase runner who even scores big at an international competition. His glory is short-lived (like for most athletes or those engaged in non-cricket sports) and he resigns to his tiddly village near Chambal for a farm life. Various conflicts lead him to the peak of his desperation and transform him into a poster boy of a different kind (the ones with the words ‘Wanted’ under his photo).
Paan trains his pack to a regimented life and military techniques are employed to deceive and destruct. But they aren’t trigger-happy goons out to commit mass genocide but just organized kidnappers who cannot be captured or even traced for their slippery ways. For a film that has an inevitable end, Paan and gang’s many adventures, several narrow escapes and meticulously engineered gips are fascinating and keep you hooked, tensed and even worried.
The division of fact and fiction becomes another vital scripting dilemma in such films. Too much reality and you sweep out the drama and the thrill. So director Dhulia sprinkles just the right amount of winning moments and even the slower sequences have something to bite on. Some of the memorable ones include Paan’s cue for love-making: luring his kids out of the house with some lemon juice to allow him enough privacy to get intimate with his wife (Mahie Gill). Then, Paan’s irrepressible gluttony that manifests itself intermittently makes for charming scenes like the one where he completes a race and instantly walks off track to attack a bunch of bananas.
Being a character-driven film, this one couldn’t have sailed without Irrfan’s wind. Luckily, he provides just that and allows one to experience the person beyond the many labels that are attached to the character. Mahie’s role in the film is minimal and subdued and her character is used chiefly to present Paan’s family orientation. The film’s cinematography is crisp and the slow-mo sequences of Irrfan’s leaps and arm-swings as he completes each dream run are comparable to the post-production level of award-winning sports footwear ads. Sandeep Chowta Projects drum up a background score that builds the right atmosphere for each scene and contributes to the emotion required to be evoked.
Gangsters, con artists and stock market scammers have always been glamourised in films to be acceptable and commendable. But Paan Singh begs to differ and his raw exuberance is what makes him endearing and a joy to watch. And the best part of the film is, despite the premise, it doesn’t force any rapes or unwarranted abusives to beef up the plot. And that ensures Irrfan’s interpretation of the homely homicidal doesn’t become a Paan Singh too much.
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Want a quick glimpse of Paan Singh Tomar? Here's the trailer: