'Mere pita daaku nahi baaghi hain' says the stiffened young lad Paan Singh Tomar while defending his region Chambal as well as his father in the army camp where he is questioned for his credibility and loyalty for the nation.
Having grown up in the bad lands of Chambal, Paan Singh Tomar believes in speaking his mind and doesn't mince words irrespective of the consequences that follow. He joins the army to fight for the country despite his act being considered as a betrayal to his familial responsibilities. He joins sports in the army camp only so as to get full meals which he is deprived of otherwise and surprising everyone at it, he ends up winning one competition after another in hurdle races, steeplechases etc. But it doesn't take too long for this seven-time national champion to leave it all and replace his chase for the medal with a chase from the cops as he turns a dacoit.
It isn't a cake walk to depict the life of an unsung hero for only so little is said or heard about him. But filmmaker Tigmanshu Dhulia has a knack of doing the unexpected. He picks up that very little piece of Indian history spanning from 1965 to 1982 that was almost forgotten and breathes life into in.
Chambal has always been known as the land of Gabbar Singh, horses, guns and rifles. However, Tigmanshu, who's known to have assisted Shekhar Kapur during the shooting of Bandit Queen, reshapes the memory of the Indian audience as he shows an ex-military cadet turned dacoit, sans any horse, training his gang the various army formations he learnt during training to keep wary from the cops.
Tigmanshu takes to his advantage that only a little has been written or known about Paan Singh and saves his film from turning into a documentary. He blends the facts with fiction, adding the adequate amount of emotions and drama that make his film for a gripping and edgy watch.
Right from the first scene onwards, the filmmaker sets the backdrop right. From the area, to the dialect and even the characters are flawlessly defined in the film. Even though the drama does take a dip towards the second half making the film seem longer, the rise and fall of Paan Singh Tomar, the people who affected his life, the people who matter to him and the ones who touched him are so faultlessly depicted that you know there couldn't be a better portrayal otherwise.
Paan Singh Tomar stands tall on two pillars, Tigmanshu Dhulia and Irrfan Khan. The latter breathes life into the historic figure and with his acting prowess proves yet again why he is the most sought after 'actor' in this film industry. He essays the role of an athlete with the same exuberance with which he plays the romantic husband or the fierce dacoit. It wouldn't be wrong to say that the film wouldn't have been complete had it not been for Irrfan Khan's laudable performance. Mahie Gill as the wife of Paan Singh gives a perfectly retrained performance.
The other facets of filmmaking too show their brilliance and add to the film in their own potent ways. Cinematography by Aseem Mishra is crackling while the background score by Sandeep Chowta is perfect. Music by Abhishek Ray is completely in sync with the region shown in the film. A very well researched work.
To sum it up, Paan Singh Tomar is not just any other biopic, it's much more. It raises the bar of Indian cinema and shouts out loud for a deserving watch.