WBRi Movie Review: PAAN SINGH TOMAR (Hindi, 2012) Irrfan Khan Shines in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Bollywood Movie

Paan Singh Tomar (Hindi, 2012) Poster

Kolkata March, 3, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio/Penning Creations) There have been several directors who have managed to announce their arrival in Bollywood with a bang, with their debut films earning widespread adulation among critics and cinegoers alike. Makers like Karan Johar and Sujay Ghosh had been able to stamp their class and filmmaking expertise via their very first films (‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ and ‘Jhankaar Beats’ respectively). Director Tigmanshu Dhulia, whose debut film, ‘Haasil’, earned considerable appreciation among movie buffs, was also considered to be a member of this category of young and promising moviemakers. Dhulia, however, could not quite keep up the good work at the box-office, with his next couple of films (‘Charas’, ‘Shagird’) turning out to be relative duds. To his credit, the director made a fine return to form last year with the brilliantly made ‘Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster’. With his latest film, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, Dhulia looks to strengthen his footing as one of the top directors in the Hindi film industry. With the movie already making waves in the international circuits (it premiered at the British Film Institute London Film Festival), one expected ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ to be a really fine and engrossing film. The movie is a thoroughly entertaining fare too!

Trailer - Paan Singh Tomar (Hindi, 2012)

The film relates the story of a common man, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, who hails from a relatively small town in Madhya Pradesh. In his bid to escape from the clutches of acute poverty, our protagonist joins the ranks of the Bengal Engineers. For a while, everything seems to turn out just as planned, much to the delight of ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. The latter also participates in the steeplechase race at the Indian National Games and unprecedented success waits for him there as well. ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ manages to win that particular event for seven years on the bounce, a feat hitherto unheard of. A measure of the magnitude of ‘Paan Singh’s feat can easily be gauged by the fact that, his record went on to remain intact for ten more years (!). However, leading men in Bollywood flicks can hardly spend the entire length of a movie basking in success, glory and peace, right? ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is no exception!

The life of ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is drastically rocked by a series of unfortunate events, which force him to give up on his sporting activities. He even has to relinquish his post as a ‘subedar’ in the Indian Army. In the midst of gloom and distinctly adverse circumstances, ‘Paan Singh’ has only one God-given gift to cling on to – his ability to run fast (read: very fast!). So, what does he do to fight against the problems that destiny seems to have handed over to his life? ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ becomes a much-feared rebel (or, ‘baaghi’) in the terror-infested region of the Chambal Valley. What fate does finally await the crafty and hard-working ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, who simply refuses to bow down to his misfortunes and unfavourable circumstances? The big screen has all the answers!

‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is a movie that never lets go for a second, with a tightly woven storyline and quite fantastic screenplay. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia once again shows his class as a master storyteller, as he showcases the progression in the life of ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ in a smart and spontaneous manner. The polished narrative and pace of the film ensures that the audience remains hooked on to their seats at all times, wondering about what might happen next to the protagonist of the movie. The signs were already there in ‘Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster’ and ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ firmly establishes Dhulia as one of the brightest filmmakers of our times. Thanks for delivering such a wonderful film, Mr. Director!

As is the case of all good, entertaining movies, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is also bolstered by fine performances from its actors. Mahi Gill, as the beautiful ‘Indra’, is easy on the eye and emotes well, lending credence to the belief that she is fast evolving into a fine young actress in the Bollywood industry. Gill manages to shrug off the disappointments of her last outing (the eminently forgettable ‘Not A Love Story’) and shines through in a film that is, broadly speaking, dominated by its male protagonist (no mean feat, that!). Imran Hasnee, as ‘Matadeen Singh’, is pretty good and manages to do more than adequate justice to his role. Vipin Sharma, as ‘Major Masand’, is well-cast too and pitches in with a strong performance. Rahul Sharma, as ‘Shaggy’, however, hams his lines. The others are (more or less!) adequate in their roles.

‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is, of course, Irrfan’s film through and through. The actor manages to bring to life the state of perpetual transition of his character in a brilliant manner onscreen. The entire gamut of Irrfan’s acting prowess and expressions are on display in ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ and this enriches the film a great deal indeed. There are a lot of pains and pathos in the character of ‘Paan Singh’, but Irrfan (and the director!) never goes overboard to try and establish an emotional connect with the audience. Indeed, it is the understated nature of ‘Paan Singh’s grief and sufferings that makes the audience root for him, in addition to making the overall film more subtle and stylish. As long as Irrfan stays away from mundane commercial flicks (like ‘Thank You’ and ‘Mr.100%: The Real Payer’!), it can be stated with conviction that he is poised for greater glory and recognition in Bollywood. The character of ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ also put rather rigorous physical demands on Irrfan and the actor comes out with flying colors on that count too.

The movie is not totally free of flaws (relatively minor ones, though!) however. While the first half of ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is uniformly captivating, the film becomes somewhat one-paced in its post-interval phase. Apart from Irrfan, the characters of the other actors also had considerable room for development in the film. The movie, however, is a visually opulent affair, with Aseem Mishra’s camerawork capturing the locales of Madhya Pradesh and Chambal in a beautiful manner. The editing is crisp in most parts and adds to the smartness of the movie.

The musical score of ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is a letdown though. Abhishek Ray’s tunes are mostly situational, but fail to touch a chord with the audience. The catchy ‘Kero Mama’ is the only song that is hummable, but none of the numbers quite stay with the viewers once the movie is over. The background music is also just about okay.

‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is a really well-made film that would surely help director Tigmanshu Dhulia win considerable critical appreciation at the box-office. Irrfan’s towering screen presence and bravura performance also enhances the overall charm and style quotient of the movie. The second half of the film is not as good as its first hour, but the director ensures that, the cinematic and technical brilliance of ‘Pan Singh Tomar’ easily overshadows this minor glitch.

‘Paan Singh Tomar’ would definitely rank among the finest works of Irrfan. Just like its leading man, the movie too seems to have the legs to have a long run at the theatres!

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