The most striking feature about Paan Singh Tomar is that it is as real as it gets. It has a very authentic feel to it and it’s definitely an example of good cinema. The language is real; the places are real and so are the emotions. In essence, the film is rustic and a lot of scenes are interlaced with unexpected humour, thus making it a delight to watch. The movie skillfully manages to suspend any process of belief or questioning that the audience might have.
The character of Paan Singh Tomar is crafted in a very simple and raw manner, just like the script of the film. Irrfan Khan portrays this character with a streak of minimalism that works wonders for the film which is set in Morena, Madhya Pradesh. There is no air of pretence in the protagonist. He speaks the dialect perfectly and looks like the way an army subedar should. Mahie Gill plays the role of his wife and her reactions towards her husband’s increasing female fan following would make anyone laugh.
There is a transition in the film in the essence of the protagonist’s character. His transformation to the dreaded dacoit or baaghi (rebel) is seamless. The circumstances which push him to do so are inserted very well into the plot and thus, this becomes one of the most effective on-screen transformations ever. Khan’s credibility as an actor has hardly been doubted. With this performance though, he takes expectations a notch higher and fulfills them too. Even though he overshadows everyone else in the movie, the casting is spot on and you end up with a lot of seasoned actors (and not ‘stars’) portraying various characters in the movie. Some brilliant performances by Vipin Sharma, Zakir Hussain and Brijendra Kala are seen thanks to the same.
Tigmanshu Dhulia is a maverick director and his previous work lays testament to that. A few may feel that this movie lacks pace but I feel it proceeds smoothly in the first half and loses a bit of its sheen in the second. Even though this film has released across theatres in India only now, it originally premiered at the London Film Festival back in 2010. However, it is confirmed that the soundtrack of this movie has been redone for its country-wide release.
I haven’t heard the original but Sandeep Chowta’s score gives this movie a different dimension. The same goes for the music by Abhishek Ray. Another winner in the technical department of the movie has to be its editing. Aarti Bajaj who is almost established a cult as the editor of ‘alt-Bollywood’ movies does wonders to this film. Aseem Mishra’s cinematography is again, gritty and dark.
So why exactly does a simple tale of an athlete-turned-dacoit get theatrical release after two years of it having premiered in an international film festival? One reason is surely the bias that Indian audiences have towards light-hearted, candy-floss movies. It was only on the second and third day of its release that this movie saw full houses. Promotion through word-of-mouth was unfortunately the only way this movie was spoken about (for e.g., Anurag Kashyap’s tweets and retweets). Secondly, this film was released owing to the success of Dhulia’s Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster. This too, is an unfortunate reason since Paan Singh Tomar is a much better movie. I am glad that this film at least saw the light of day (in theatres) unlike many good films that go to film festivals and then disappear into oblivion.