(kj) In a tumultuous journey through the first decades of an independent India, Tigmanshu Dhulia depicts a story of Paan Singh Tomar (Irrfan Khan) – an Indian athlete and a seven-time national steeplechase champion.
The film begins by portraying an almost idllic rise of a villager to the ranks of an army subedar and the vivid world he encounters along the way. Funnily enough, Paan Singh forces himself into sports to satisfy his all-pervasive and ever-growing appetite. He fetches one award after another and creates the national steeplechase record.
The mockery of the fellow army men for not facing the enemy on the front incites him further to claim even higher sportive achievements. Albeit numerous accomplishments he does not get the expected recognition from his countrymen and relatives back in the village. He opts for premature retirement from the army and a return to farming. Yet land feud and fathomless hatred from his relatives make an untroubled life a distant memory. Lack of response, closed doors and negation from both the faint-hearted collector and a corrupt inspector turn this righteous man in a meticulous rebel. The brutal killing of his old mother and a severe thrashing his son had to bear prove to be the last drop in his cup of endurance. Excellent military training and his sharp mind convert this man into one of the most respected and feared dacoits known to the criminal history of the Indian subcontinent. But to call Paan Singh Tomar a criminal is to do injustice to this humble and yet ferocious man. He kills because ‘it’s needed’, he kills to avenge not only his beloved mother but also the iniquitous system he imagined he served while in the army. He fails to comprehend how a criminal, a thug, a cruel and pitiless man can in next to no time become one of the most talked about of persons in the country. A sportsman, on the other hand, a seeming pride of the nation receives next to no acknowledgement from the society he earns his accolades for.
Bitter disappointment replaces former pride and selfless servitude. Soon treachery creeps into Paan Singh’s gang and he can sense the approach of an undeserving end. True to his athletic spirit, he does not give in before he reaches the finish line. Surrounded by an unproportional deployment of police the unsung hero of Indian sports crosses the last steeple of his life to reach the other side of the riverbed and find his death from merciless bullets of statutory injustice.
Watch the Official Trailer on Youtube here: