Paan Singh Tomar – Please share and spread the lovely Paan around

When there is a union of a production house credited with providing a great platform for quality cinema and a filmmaker with a known track record to try and push the envelope on a consistent basis, expectations are obviously high. Add to this the press coverage it has been generating from the festival circuit for some time now and bytes about the physical challenges undergone by Irfan Khan. All in all this is one movie which has had the discerning Indian movie viewer biting his nails off in expectation. Does ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ match up to all this hype? Is it really ground breaking stuff? The answer is an overwhelming yes.

The outline of the story is pretty well known by now. Paan Singh Tomar sketches on celluloid the life and times of a unsung hero in Indian athletics who by a tragic twist of events ends up as a dreaded dacoit in the Chambal valley and eventually dies by the gun. Paan Singh joins the Indian army as a eager young recruit and then goes on to become a 7 time national champion in the 3000 metre steeple chase event(in the 50s and 60s) thanks to his extremely voracious appetite for running and eating. Pressing family commitments force him to take early retirement and settle in his village. What starts of as a petty land dispute, thanks to the apathy of the law and order machinery and utter disregard for Paan Singh’s contribution to the nation , pushes the protagonist to the brink and forces him to take up arms.

Let me tell you right at the outset that the first half of the movie is probably the best 60 odd minutes of cinema I have seen in a long long time. In a day and age when 3-4 excellent scenes are hard to come by in any of the regular fare dished out each Friday, there are more than half a dozen in the first half alone. To quote just a few of them, the enquiry scene between Paan Singh and his military superiors, the tender romantic moments with his wife(played so subtly and beautifully by Mahie Gill) and a critical sequence in the police station are just beyond words. In my opinion, what graduates this from good cinema to great cinema is the depth provided in seemingly simple scenes to add meat and layers to the characters and the story. The character graph of Irfan from an innocent village guy in the army to a confident athlete and then eventually on to a man pushed to the brink is so unhurried and seamless that you just cannot single out the actor or the creator of the role for lavish praise and reward. Not to mention the subtle moments of brilliance and contributions by each and everyone in the cast. Be it the equation between him and his coach and superiors, his gradual loss of faith in the judicial system,his response to people who betray him or his adamant attitude to see his dacoit stint through to the end, come what may.

If at all there is some nitpicking to do, the film suffers a bit from the classic biopic syndrome as there are some moments in the second half when you feel like a few moments keep restating the obvious and understood. This is also because of the extremely high standards the film sets itself in the first half. Case in point is some sequences prior to the climax when you feel the drama button is pushed relatively harder in comparison to the rapid proceedings prior to that. Moreover, to me the film probably raises larger questions about the absolute necessity of an interval and a whole paradigm of cinema built around it.

Performances wise, there is absolutely nothing negative to be held against anybody. Though it is largely Irfan’s film, Mahie Gill as his wife, Vipin Sharma as Major Masand and Rajendra Gupta in a small role as his coach are all equally outstanding in delivering whatever is expected out of them. Even the lesser known artists as his gang members or random village folk all gell so perfectly into the canvas. Background music is very apt for most parts of the movie, cinematography does total justice to the setting and editing is very efficient and keep s the movie at optimum length and pace. Dialogues obviously play a large part in delivering home the complete impact of Paan Singh’s saga. Be it the ‘Bihad mein baaghi hote hain’ one or the ‘Gali dene wale ko goli marte hain….’ beauty they just keep coming relentlessly at you.

In summary, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is one of those rare pieces of cinematic brillaince churned out from the Walmart of Bollywood. Don’t fret over the serious premise or the absence of an A-lister. Go for its tribute to the unsung sports heroes of the country, honest portrayal of the apathy towards law and order in vast parts of the country and last but not the least Irfan Khan in a role he was probably born to play. If not for anything else, trust me its worth watching multiple times just for its rapid fire first half. 4 stars for me, no less.

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15 thoughts on “Paan Singh Tomar – Please share and spread the lovely Paan around

  1. As far as i know Badri, the press coverage that it generated from the festival circuits was pretty bad thus leading it to more delays.

    Apart from it a birdie said that Dhulia had vent out some anger on SRK from UTV which must have been the main reason for sidelining this project. 🙂

    Excellent summary though as i ponder my thoughts after a day, felt that the character does not leave you with an emotional hook. His death did not make me sad, maybe it was deliberate from Tigmanshu.

    The ice cream being given to Irrfan at the time of his premature retirement and the meeting he has with his son while maintaining a distance is the film’s high point.

  2. @rasik – thanks. hope the review is not too bad either.
    @Ajay Nair – Sudhish kamath too had said that the festival version was much more ordinary than this. Subtle moments like the ones you mentioned are very beautiful. One such moment for me was him warning his coach not to swear. His death does not make you very sad because by then you are convinced he pretty much chose it whole heartedly

    • Saw the film yesterday. You are spot on about the casting and the dialogue. It is amazing how Irfan Khan picks up these accents effortlessly. In Namesake he felt and looked completely Bengali and amazingly here too perfect ‘Bihad Ka Baghi’. That man is just WOW! Every single actor who gets space and time in the film are up to the mark. Now, when was the last time this happened? I am with you on the romantic scenes with his wife as well. Tenderness which is very rare. Wonderful review.

  3. Excellent review Badri. Dunno why UTV had kept this film under their ass for such a long time. Irrfan khan as you rightly said was destined to play this role,

    Dialogues are kickass and mainstay of the movie. There is so much of subtlety in the film and no melodrama. It is sad to learn of the apathy shown by our country towards the sports heroes.

    After a long time I came out of the cinema hall with a good feeling due to the fact that i had watched a great film.

  4. Well it seems the initial cut of the film ( shown in festivals ) wasn’t too impressive & its been re-edited now and looks like its made a lot of difference. But even then I’m still surprised with such a low key release&publicity for the film. Anyways good job Badri I guess u stuck to the task pretty well. The film ( especially 1st half ) has some really wonderful moments. Irrfan and Tigmanshu both deserve a lot of praise for their work.

  5. I watched this movie last night in a North London theatre, there were just 6 of us for the night show. I am surprised this movie has such low-key publicity, inspite of being from a big production house.

    This is a stand out film and I would compare it to Sholay and Lagaan in terms of story telling and performances. I was always an admirer of Irfan Khan and he has given the performance of his lifetime. If I had to nitpick, I would want some more meat around the motivation & mechanics for the gang’s eventual betrayal.

    Another cult film from Tigmanshu.

  6. I saw the film today afternoon.good 55% attendance.

    I agree with most of points written here.The alteraction between Irfan Khan and that inspector was a standout scene for me.

    Although I still feel that this could have been better if it were in Hindi.(Subtitles were actually disturbing)
    Also Dhulia could have added little more action to the pratice running sessions in the film(watch how Rocky Balboa practises).The way they showed it created an impression that even a child can accomplish this.

    Excellent review Badri:)

  7. Pingback: Saturday Watch- Q & A with Tigmanshu Dhulia, director of Paan Singh Tomar | Mad About Moviez

  8. Pingback: Bullett Raja Movie Review : Trying too hard to be cool | mad about moviez

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