When he ran on the tracks, he won medals; when he ran in the ravines of Chambal as a rebel, he created havoc -- director Tigmanshu Dhulia's "Paan Singh Tomar" brilliantly captures the life of the former national steeplechase champion.
The film is Dhulia's tribute to the unsung sports heroes of the nation and is certainly a masterpiece. Add to that Irrfan Khan's brilliant performance and it makes it a treat to watch.
"While I was assisting Shekhar Kapur on ‘Bandit Queen', I read an article on Paan Singh Tomar. I decided that whenever I will become a director, I will make a film on him," Dhulia, who started his career with films like "Haasil" and "Charas", told IANS.
Paan Singh was forced to leave the army due to personal problems and when he went back home in Madhya Pradesh, the circumstances forced him to become a rebel and pick up the guns, says the film.
"When we started the research work, we realised there was no record available on Paan Singh who was once the pride of the nation. We contacted his wife, his son and also spoke to his coach who was still alive. Then we spoke to some of the dacoits who were active at that time to know about his life," said the director, who collected bits and pieces from here and there to weave this engrossing and entertaining film.
If the script is the hero of the film, Irrfan's powerful performance is the soul of the biopic that was shot in actual locations in Roorkee cantonment and Chambal valley at a budget of about Rs.8 crore (almost $2 million).
"From day one, I knew that I wanted Irrfan to play this role," said the director, who chose the rest of the cast with utmost care and they too have given brilliant performances without going overboard. Mahie Gill is impressive as Paan Singh's wife.
But without Irrfan's brilliant performance, perhaps the film would have not been as impactful as it is -- he is one actor who always improvises the role he essays. In this film too, he succeeds in bringing the earnestness, the determination and later pain and anger that Paan Singh goes through in his life.
Irrfan says he "enjoyed the discomfort" he had to go through while shooting in Chambal valley.
"I'm not that kind of an actor who is always looking for comfort. There are certain films where you look for comfort and there are certain films where you enjoy discomfort. You can't be always in a comfortable situation and this role demanded that kind of discomfort and we enjoyed it. It was an experience," Irrfan said.
The film, which may hit screens in India next year, got an overwhelming response from the audiences when it had its world premiere Wednesday at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Both, the director and actors, got a huge round of applause after the screening.
There are many unsung sports heroes who are languishing and by watching "Paan Singh Tomar", the audiences can pay a tribute to them in their own way.