Monday, April 23, 2012

Paan Singh Tomar - Movie Review

Movies are now slotted into three types for me. The ones that are hyped so much that you are an absolute idiot if you have not yet seen it. The ones that you hear bad stuff about but it stays in the theatres for long and becomes a hit with some 100 crores raked in the first week. And the ones that you hear good stuff about and want to watch it but it stays for only a week or two. I have a weakness for the underdog, the one who makes what he belies in, and try to spend money on tickets in the theatre for the third kind as my form of support.

'Paan Singh Tomar' was one of those movies that went off the theatres before I could gather myself and rush to watch it. I had heard good reviews of 'Paan Singh Tomar' and was just about getting ready when it went away from the theatres and was relegated to the video and television circuit. Thankfully Raja bought the video along and we watched it at home. I remember hearing this name, but who was he? The movie is a biopic on a real life national athlete of a legendary status who turned into a dacoit after being failed by the system.

The movie was surprisingly easy on the eye and the mind. The village bumpkin from Morena with a voracious appetite who joins the army and asks to be selected in 'sports' because sportsmen have no rationed food and he can eat as much as he likes, impresses one and all with his running skills. Irrfan Khan impressed me with his running skills no end - from his posture to his stride - he was perfect. Originally under training for long-distance running he is switched over to the 'stipplechase' (steeplechase) and becomes national champion for seven years in a row and the national record holder that stood for 10 years. Winner of many awards, once taking off his new spikes mid run in Japan, Paan Singh Tomar has built an idyllic life around him with his family. One regret is that he is not allowed to fight in the war because sportsmen are not allowed to as a rule. To make up, the angry Paan Singh, takes the gold at an advanced age in the World Defence Meet in steeplechase. He is a champion no doubt and a legend already.

Post retirement Paan Singh is offered a coaching post in the army. But he goes home to his village in Madhya Pradesh and gets into a land feud with his family. With no support from the police and the local administration, Paan Singh turns outlaw (baaghi) and becomes a dreaded dacoit in the Chambal valley. Going by his army title 'Subedar Paan Sing Tomar' he trains an army of his family members and is on the run giving police in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan the slip, often dressed as policemen themselves. His family is hiding faraway from his hometown of Morena, his son in the army thanks to his old boss, Paan Singh finally falls to a police encounter in 1981, betrayed by some village elders.

Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar is brilliant. From his running the steeplechase races to his restraint at the feud, to his full blown anger when pushed beyond his limit and his stubbornness to surrender, Irrfan Khan never steps out of Paan Singh's shoes. When he warns his cousin that he will come back to kill, bellowing like an enraged bull, Irrfan Khan looks so different from any other actor who would have portrayed that scene. He is fantastic that way, Irrfan Khan, always making the character so believable that you cannot but visualise anyone else playing that role. So convincing is he as the proud Subedar. The story is told well, starting with the newspaper interview which they say led to Paan Singh's hunt and eventual death.

It was a wonderful ode to a legendary sportsman of India whose story no one knew fully, who was a victim of injustice, and who was hunted down like a common criminal. The director's tribute to the sportsmen who died penniless, gold medal winners for India, is also an ode to many more sportsmen in India, many cricketers even, who are in financial doldrums. For a nation that does not hesitate to take all the credit and high for its sportsmen's victories, it is amazing how they are dumped the day after they retire. I can imagine how many people would rush in an airport to meet a G.R. Vishwanath, or even a Javagal Srinath as opposed to an upstart from the IPL. But its not so much about what the country did for you as against what you did for the country. These men and women have braved all odds to achieve what they did and they did it because they felt they had to. They ran because they had to, not because the country would give them something. But when someone like Tigmanshu Dhulia decides to make a movie like this you know that certain things have not gone in vain. That you will remain through your deeds forever. For those who have not seen this, highly recommended. And Ronnie Screwwala, take a bow, for producing movies like this.

1 comment:

vissal santh said...

I haven't watched 'Paan Singh Tomar' but, after reading your view of it, I plan to pounce on the next available opportunity. I admire Irrfan Khan's acting prowess too, having seen him first in 'Darr' and I have followed his career, though intermittently, since. I watched him in 'Ek doctor ki maut' where he was very young and probably just starting out on an acting career and most recently in movies such as 'The namesake' , 'A mighty heart’ and 'Life in a metro'. All I can say is that he is exactly what an actor should be. He delves into the role and brings out all the dimensions of the character he portrays.

I wonder why there aren't more actors like him in our country. Well, there are a few and there are also those who can really 'act' if they want to, but somehow haven't done more than a few meaningful films. For example, I really enjoyed both the movie and Saif Ali Khan's role in 'Eklavya', after which I never saw him in a good film once! Then there is Mithun Chakraborty who has played some wonderful and unforgettable characters in films like 'Tahader kotha', 'Mrigaya' and more recently in 'Titli'. But my complain is why don't these actors make good films more often?

On the larger, more pertinent social question, I wonder what degree of ill-treatment and neglect can turn a man from a sportsperson to a rebel, and what kind of a country is that which treats not only its sportspersons but also (quite often) its writers and scientists and thinkers in this manner. It’s a matter of extreme sadness and shame that this happens all the time. What extraordinary inconsideration and scorn turned Paan Singh into such a cynic at odds with society, I really can’t imagine! After reading your review I don’t think of Paan Singh Tomar neither as a hero or a villain, but simply a man who did what he had to. If my family was threatened in any way and I had exhausted all other options, I don’t think I would act any differently!