These dusty, rugged terrains are ever familiar to the Indian movie enthusiast. This is where Gabbar terrorized Basanti, where countless other stars like Amitabh Bachhan, Vinod Khanna, Sunil Dutt, Seema Biswas, even Mukesh Tiwari (in a box office bomb that launched his career) filled fear in the hearts of villagers with their horses, shotguns and (sometimes ridiculous) one liners. Yes, I am talking about the dacoit valleys of Bollywood. Those feared ravines of Chambal have been depicted countless number of times on our silver screen. Tigmanshu Dhulia recreates the infamous ‘Dacoit Valley’ for his much awaited, long overdue, Paan Singh Tomar.
Paan Singh Tomar tells the true story of a national steeplechase champion who is forced to hang up his boots to become an outlaw. To give up his dreams and ambitions to protect the lives and honour of the ones he loved. The story of this dacoit is laced with more humour than one would expect, with Irrfan’s wisecracks to his gang members and enemies alike drawing more than chuckles from the audience. The scenes with his wife (Mahie Gill) are tender and equally amusing.
Introduced to us as a loyal army man with an unusual penchant for running and an insatiable appetite for food, Irrfan Khan dazzles as the athlete/bhaagi in a movie where he occupies almost every frame . In what he called “the most physically and mentally demanding film of my career“, he reminds everyone that when it comes to versatility, he’s the one Khan towering over all of Bollywood.
Tigmanshu Dhulia is competent in telling a story which is set in the past, but is very much relevant in the present too. In a line filled with regret not just for the narrator but the audience too, Tomar says “I ran across 28 hurdles and 7 water jumps for the nation and no one bothered, but when I crossed the borders of three states for a kidnapping, the whole nation talks about me”. A very valid question raised-“Do we really bother about our sportsmen outside of cricket once their careers are past twilight”? Something to ponder upon.
The film has an intriguing and compelling first half. But the story starts to meander and stagnate towards the second half. Dhulia seems to have fallen in love with the dacoit version of Irrfan that he just unnecessarily drags the movie on and on in this phase. The above mentioned wise-cracks get repetitive and eventually the movie fails to latch on to the attention of the viewer anymore, at times even culminating in boredom.
Paan Singh Tomar would treat you to a feast of riveting performances from India’s best. And this factor manages to hold the film together despite a hugely disappointing second half. I give this movie a 2.5 on 5 with another 0.5 for the irreplaceable Irrfan Khan, kaho haan!!