By Sadho Ram
What would you call a man, who after joining the army and accidently becoming the seven-time national winner in steeplechase, retires as a Subedar, only to pick up the gun again, this time to fight a personal battle, and thus becomes a dreaded man?
I’m guessing – a rebel. Because that’s what he calls himself.
Who is he?
Well, you’ll know.
But no matter whomsoever this rebel is, there has never been a rebel whose story didn’t have a tale in it. So, just like every rebel has a story to tell, of himself and how or what made him a rebel, this rebel too has a “story with a tale” in it of himself and how he became what he finally became.
And just for the record, this rebel goes by the name Paan Sigh Tomar, who occasionally delights in the mouth-watering taste of hot gulab-jaamun and ice-cream, and doesn’t like to be addressed as a daket (dacoit). Because as per him, “daket milte hain parliament me.” (Dacoits are found in parliament).
So rightly in the beginning of this “story with a tale” when the interviewer, who after boasting in the morning to a paanwala that tomorrow he is going to become famous, and now at night panting (after climbing long stairs) and nervous in front of our rebel, asks, “aap daaku kaise bane?”, Paan Singh Tomar, with his piercing eyes and equally piercing voice replies, “bihad me baagi hote hain, daket milte hain parliament me.” And thus sets the premise of this gritty (yet jovial in parts) “story with a tale” that our rebel is going to narrate in flashback, taking us with him wherever he goes, making us feel - and at times even reflect on - what he feels.
Brilliantly directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia and magnificently acted out by Irrfan Khan, as soon as Paan Singh Tomar the film begins, it catches your attention and pulls you into the biopic drama of a hero long forgotten by the country, and doesn’t let you go even after it ends. It lasts within you, only to make you feel the grit that Paan Singh Tomar the man had in him.
Such movies are rarely made, just like rebels as such as Paan Singh Tomar are. Tigmanshu, after successfully practicing the genre and the nuances required for such kind of story-telling, has given us his best effort as a director and writer. Paan Singh Tomar shows the effort he has put in and the skills he has used. If not until now, then Paan Singh Tomar is what will give him the due recognition and respect that he rightly deserves. It is something he has worked very hard for and unlike many others in the industry; he is someone who has earned it.
The less is said about Irrfan Khan the better it will be. Because words do not do justice to what that man has become. Since the time I’ve seen him acting, that man has only grown and outperformed himself in almost every film that he has done. We all know the kind of actors that throng the industry now. Rotting on weekly basis, the graph of acting talent in our Bollywood has only gone down. But there are few, still around, still growing, and going only strong, who are keeping the ship from sinking completely. Irrfan Khan is one of them, a rebel of sorts who refuses to stop evolving. In Paan Singh Tomar, he rises to a level that was not expected, but not surprising either. It’s hard to tell whether Paan Singh Tomar became him or he became Paan Singh Tomar.
A final word on the film: It’s a true delight in such genre, possibly expected from the likes of Dhulia and a few others. The story is well-written, well-woven, well-told, with attention to detail and specific highlights, thus making it worth the money and time, both.
Watch it for the sheer talent that Dhulia and Khan bring to it. Watch it for the rare masterstrokes Indian Cinema has to offer. Watch it for the 7 time national winner, who died a rebel. Watch it for all those unsung national athletes who lived a life of misery after sports and died penniless.