A film that has a well written character as the protagonist promises to have a lot of potential. With Paan Singh Tomar there was no need to sketch out the character since Paan Singh lived a real life and that is being replayed on celluloid by Irrfan Khan with Timanshu Dhulia of the ‘Saheb Biwi Gangster’ fame captaining the ship.
Paan Singh Tomar is not a renowned page from the history books, rather he is one of those hundreds of people who had been good and turned bad and got lost in the rural whirlwinds of India. An army man who loves to eat and overeat turned a sportsman, athlete to be precise, who goes on to become a national champ in steeplechase turned rebel who goes out at it with a heart in the right place. Paan Singh Tomar is the journey of this man who is virtually unknown outside his small village in the valley of Chambal which has been made infamous by Phoolan Devi (remember Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Bandit Queen’).
Paan Singh Tomar is a cinematic delight, Irrfan Khan is subtle, restrained and perfect with his portrayal and Timanshu Dhulia manages to pull off a winner yet again after his successful ‘Saheb Biwi Gangster’. Irrfan has never been into a very physically demanding film but Paan Singh Tomar needs him to run and run well, take leaps and swing his arms. The talented actor does all of that with precision clearly indicating the training he has put into prior to shooting. His dialect and the accent are perfect and that adds a rustic flavor to every scene and to every dialogue he mouths. If Gabbar Singh was about being a ruthless and devilish dacoit then Paan Singh Tomar is a clever, scheming, charming rebel who intends to do no harm to anyone but to be a rebel. His learning at the army camps allows him to train his gang superfluously and they carry out each of their operation rather impressively.
Timanshu Dhulia does a great job with the scripting and with filming. He does not leave out the factual details of Paan Singh Tomar and also manages to employ enough fiction to make it a worthwhile watch on the silver screens. Attention to detail is what Timanshu executes brilliantly and to an extent that the on screen portrayal of Paan Singh Tomar does not miss out even a small cue, be it being sarcastic about the government, trying to be romantic with his wife (Mahiee Gill), acting as a nice father and the leader of his rebellious gang. The transition of the character through his mid twenties, thirties and forties with several occupations being in the limelight has been meticulously taken care of. Irrfan Khan is not an actor to stick to mannerisms or develop fixations and he certainly makes Paan Singh Tomar a character that would be loved and cared for at the end of the day. He as an actor stays back and completely lets Paan Singh unfold in front of you, something we miss in Bollywood movies.
A biopic can be so intriguing and it always does not need to be of someone who is a world renowned celebrity or politician. The Brad Pitt starrer ‘Moneyball’ is a recent example where a biopic does not need to be a story of great triumphs or great tragedy but can be a story itself and if narrated properly it can go the distance. Paan Singh Tomar is exactly that. This is fine cinema, honest storytelling and splendid performances.
Rural India has been captured beautifully by Aseem Mishra (DOP) and Aarti Bajaj has done a good job at the edit table. Sandeep Chowta does a fabulous job with the background score and a ten on ten for him to have come up with the right sound that would have elevated Paan Singh Tomar.
You may not know Paan Singh Tomar or may not be in awe of Irrfan Khan but if you like watching good cinema then this one is for you. Paan Singh is not arty, it is not a masala entertainer, it is serious cinema but who said serious cinema cannot be entertaining. If the world can do it, so can Timagshu Dhulia and Irrfan Khan.