Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar has many laurels attached to it – the most popular one is that it gave Irrfan Khan the recognition that he always deserved. He had proved his talent with Haasil and the TV show Chanakya, but he truly became a star after Paan Singh Tomar emerged as a sleeper hit in 2012. As Tigmanshu turns 55 on Sunday, we revisit the film. (Also read: Tigmanshu Dhulia is angry that ‘trash’ and ‘filth’ like Total Dhamaal is making ₹200 crore)
A biographical film based on anecdotes from the life of soldier-turned-dacoit Paan Singh Tomar, the film bagged two National Film Awards – the best feature film and best actor for Irrfan. It also scored well at the box office. Made on an estimated budget of ₹8 crore, it grossed ₹20 crore at the ticket windows, according to a Box Office India report.
The elements of the story itself had enough meat to churn out a gripping revenge drama. Tigmanshu’s minute study of the Chambal region adds to the authenticity of the milleu. From the rustic surroundings of a typical Indian village to the language and accent of his characters, Tigmanshu has a grip over it all, like the master of his world.
Early on, Paan Singh’s stamina and grit are introduced and we get to see the desperation of a poor man. When he is told he’d get enough food if he joins sports, he simply presents himself. The honesty of Irrfan’s character adds to thcharm.
Another memorable scene comes soon after – when he is asked to deliver a box of ice-cream to Vipin Sharma’s Major Masand’s house, without letting it melt. It is a very small scene that envelopes the sweetness of the bond between the characters, and highlights Paan Singh Tomar’s talents, without much melodrama around it.
The film does not dwell much upon Paan Singh’s relationship with his wife, but the few scenes that do have enough depth to make the audience feel for them. The romance is subtly mixed with lack of resources, when we see the couple sending off the children for various chores so they get some time together. There are very few conversations between them. One of the last scenes of Mahie Gill (Irrfan’s onscreen wife in the film) shows her turning away from Paan Singh as she sheds a drop of tear, when he talks of his own death.
The film also comments on the socio-political scenario of the times. Most dialogues are laced with commentary on the way the administration works, or how power politics affects the way people live. When Irrfan’s brother beats up his son and refuses to kill him, he says, “What will he (Paan Singh) do? He can only run to the police station. That is all he knows.”
Irrfan’s monologue before his brother is killed is one of the most touching scenes in the films. After the brother is shot, he vents out his frustration
Tigmanshu does not shy away from explicitly spelling out the nexus between criminals and the police. Even the subtle rivalry between the army and the police jumps out in one particular scene in which Paan Singh calls the corrupt cop (Rajiv Gupta) “police ka kutta”.
The conversation between Irrfan and Brijendra Kala (journalist) is heart-warming, and threatening at the same time and circles around the entire personality of the film’s protagonist.
The film also has some of the most hilarious sequences that found their way to iconic status. One of the best ones is, when Irrfan makes Rajiv apologise to his cop’s uniform. During Paan Singh’s interview for getting initiates into sports, he innocently boasts about his dacoit uncle, who was never caught by the cops. The expressions of the faces of the army officers sums up the disconnect between the hinterlands and the mainland of India, in a fun manner.
The film was criticised for a lack of good character arc of the supporting cast. But then, it is a biographical film and those often tend to focus on their main subject – Paan Singh Tomar.