Revisiting Paan Singh Tomar: Irrfan Khan’s Gift to Cinephiles, Story of the Forgotten Hero
Watching good movies is often described as an experience, but have you ever wondered why? Is it an experience because it has made you wiser about your own life or is it an experience because you have learned something new, understood something on an intrinsic level? There isn’t just one right answer to this question, but living the movies somehow enriches our lives and on the first anniversary of Irrfan’s death we returned to revisit Paan’s experience. Singh Tomar, a movie so imposing in his presence that it’s almost impossible to get out of it halfway no matter how many times you’ve watched it.
The fact that Irrfan is a quintessential artist is an established fact, but what he achieved in the 2012 Tigmanshu Dhulia film was so compelling that even after nine years of releasing the film, the experience of watching him draws attention to itself. equally disarming to transform from an accidental athlete into an infamous “ baaghi ”.
At the time of Paan Singh Tomar’s release in 2012, Irrfan was an important figure in the Indian film industry, as well as in the West. While we had yet to undergo the transformation where the lines between so-called commercial cinema and thematic cinema could blur, Irrfan was one of the key figures of this generation who constantly pushed the boundaries in this regard. The success of Paan Singh Tomar, both critically and commercially, was a further catalyst in the evolution of the perception of Hindi cinema during this time.
But what worked at Paan Singh Tomar? It is a biographical film which tells the story of a man who calls himself a “baaghi”, not a dacoit, and who is well aware of the evils of his business. A naive man, who just wants to eat as he pleases, signs up for sports in the military and accidentally finds his talent in the steeplechase. While the film is clearly divided into two segments of Paan’s life – the athlete and the gang leader, the film doesn’t emotionally manipulate you to support him as he transforms into guns. It is this beautiful road traveled by the writers Sanjay Chouhan and Dhulia which made the public appreciate the Paan d’Irrfan for who it was. He wasn’t the archetypal hero, but he was the character who was well aware of the errors in his ways.
The interview scene with Brijendara Kala, which brings together the flashback part, is enough to suggest Paan’s anger and frustration with the society that has never respected him for his medals but likes to glorify his escapades as’ baaghi ”. His dialogue ‘Beehad mein baaghi host hain, dacait milte hain parliament mein (The baaghis are in the ravines, the dacoits are in Parliament) ‘expresses his helplessness over the system that forced him to take matters into his own hands when the system let him down.
The character, who ends up engaging in criminal activity, never believed in the system and this becomes evident early on when Tomar nearly shooed a senior officer in front of his boss. Irrfan plays him as a benefactor who will change his sport for the sake of his mentor but who still has the power to call him out when he finds his behavior offensive. He’s strong and decisive but doesn’t really change that side of his personality unless it’s essential.
Irrfan was the actor who could manage to be anyone on the big screen and more often than not he mesmerized audiences with his enchanting eyes that translated his character’s feelings in the blink of an eye. The ending of Paan Singh Tomar, where the main character is involved in a shootout with the cops, focuses on Irrfan’s face as he tries to escape. As he looks up at the sky which is bombarded with flares, Paan Singh knows the game is over and as he nears his death, the audience thinks of the athlete who galloped like a horse. and could have had a life had the system by its side. It is a feeling of disappointment, not in the man, but in the system.
Paan Singh Tomar was one of the key films in Irrfan’s glorious career. During his short life, Irrfan gave us many gifts that we will continue to cherish, but the gift of this nationally awarded performance will continue to create its magic for generations to come.
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