Faridoon Shahryar's Blog

Friday, March 2, 2012

Paan Singh Tomar: Stumps You with Magnificence

Amidst the marketing circus riding on 'stars' with spiraling egos, here comes an unassuming film (Paan Singh Tomar), driven by the gigantic talent of Irrfan Khan that simply stumps you with its Magnificence. The story of this Olympic steeple-chase-athlete-turned-'baaghi' is exceptionally told by director Tigmanshu Dhulia. Dhulia was an assistant director to Shekhar Kapur on 'Bandit Queen' and that must have surely helped him in being acclimatised with the ruthless terrain of Chambal. The naked rusticity, both in language (it can't get more 'real' than this) as well as the over all persona of all the characters and their setting lends this film an extraordinary honesty that is rarely seen in Indian films.

Let me make my point more clear by giving you a few examples. A spoilt young man ogles at a local dancer's moves under a tree. Now, in usual movies, it could have been a full blown item number with raunchily choreographed steps to lure the front benchers, but out here, you get to hear the blaring of a dhol and a rather ugly dancer (the kinds that would be enough to whet the fantasies of a bereft-of-all-forms-of-entertainment villagers). Maximum villagers seem straight out of the heartland of the country and not some theater or actors from parallel cinema. The village sarpanch or the barber that alerts the dacoits are just a couple of examples.

The film tries to highlight the incredulous plight of the sporting stars of India (other than cricketers of course) in end credits with names of a few distinguished Indian athletes who had a miserable end (one of the Asian Games athlete actually had to sell his gold medal to make his ends meet) despite making the country proud. Paan Singh Tomar was a tireless steeple chase runner who was a National record holder and represented the country in various international competitions. Circumstances forced him to become an outlaw. His grievance with the world was that his medals for the country couldn't earn him an iota of respect but once he took up the gun in his hands, everyone bent-their-backs to pay obeisance to him.

Haasil, directed by Dhulia, is one of the finest works of Irrfan Khan. Dhulia, once again gets out one of the finest performances from Irrfan. The physical transformation from very-young-to-middle-age, detailing in the dialect, convincing portrayal of an athlete, quirky flirtations with wife Indra (Mahie Gill) smeared with the matter-of-fact sense of humour (The orange juice fixation is funny), leading a bunch of nobodies in an effective manner and most importantly saying with mere eyes without any dialogue (scene where he watches his son go away in the army camp with moist yet detached eyes). The 'pointless' Indian awards need not bother to compete amongst themselves, this Khan deserves nothing less than an Oscar (if that is the yardstick for merit and credibility).  

Mahie Gill as Tomar's wife is effective. She looks every bit a villager (including a dark tan). Her bouts of jealousy brings out a cute moment in the film. Supporting cast is impressive, specially Vipin Sharma as the army officer who always stood up for Tomar. Rajendra Gupta as Tomar's coach is good. The scene where he requests his most promising athlete to give up 5000 meter race in favour of steeple chase, stays with you. Writing is first rate. There are several delightful moments in the film, evocatively brought out by some very finely written lines. Aseem Mishra's camera work is first rate. The grainy effect throughout the film gives a clear idea of the era in which the film was supposed to belong. Music score by Abhishek Ray is noteworthy. It is haunting and caresses the inner recesses of your heart-n-mind.

One must note that the film has a documentary element to it. Obviously when you are presenting a biopic on screen, that aspect will always be there. The second half tends to drag a bit due to the absence of too many substantial events that could have possibly been attention grabbing. It slows down the proceedings to an extent. The climax makes up for it, the final race-and-the-jump bringing back all the memories that Tomar always treasured. When you get out of the theater, you carry an elevated feeling and it doesn't happen too often after watching Hindi movies these days.  

Well done Tigmanshu Dhulia. More power to you. As for all of you guys out there, do yourself a favour....go and watch Paan Singh Tomar

Star Rating: ****  


  1. A pleasure reading your review. Hope I can watch PST soon. And yes: Irrfan owns a H-U-G-E talent. He's the true royal Khan of Hindi cinema.

  2. Thanks Celeste...yes Irrfan is a huge talent for sure