Movie Review: Paan Singh Tomar

Updated: Jun 18

Pratik Kumar


From the early decades till now, the cinema world has rarely shown its inclination towards these issues, except in the Bengali theater and cinema - that too limited to Ray, Malik and Sen trio. Apart from that, most of the mainstream cinema has been unable to grasp such untouched issues in this way.


Director- Tigmanshu Dhuliya

Cast- Irrfan Khan, Mahi Gill, Nawazuddin Siddiqie

Year of Release- 2012

Chambal: as soon as this word comes to mind, a picture of the barren land and the dreaded bandits slightly peeps into it. In most cinematic depictions of Bollywood, what we have seen is that it is about dacoits or- better say “rebels”- as per this film only. Many of us don’t know about it enough and consider it as a ground of violence among the rebels and at times with the police. But right here, in this backdrop, Tigmanshu Dhulia portrays a multi-faceted movie with different tones under his direction.

The opening scenes present a different picture, where Paan Singh Tomar (Irrfan Khan) reveals the amazing aspects of his life story, which to be honest, is more impactful than the latter stage. For almost half the movie, all the characters keep moving around this background story telling. Although it is a film made on true events, Tigmanshu has maintained a lot of consistency under his direction. From the early decades till now, the cinema world has rarely shown its inclination towards these issues, except in the Bengali theater and cinema - that too limited to Ray, Malik and Sen trio. Apart from that, most of the mainstream cinema has been unable to grasp such untouched issues in this way.

Let’s begin at the very beginning (as the famous song line from the movie ‘Sound of Music’) from the title- Paan Singh Tomar. This title of the film seems to be very accurate as the entire character of Irrfan in the movie revolves around the life of this great athlete. The direction of his acting has been set in the initial phase itself, by his bold image and style with an impressive personality. A character of gruff, proud and honest talker, retired from the army whose tussle with the system, which exhausted him and finally brought him down to revolt in the same barren land is the central flow. Irrfan has indeed fused a different life into the character from his acting, keeping aside a few inconsistencies in the film. His portrayal binds the audience from beginning to end. It is visible that he has not only lived the character well but has been successful in pinning the issues with his amazing dialogues, through which the film delivers its main messages. A commendable attempt has also been made to push the Chambal culture with its local dialect, thinking and way of living.

The main theme of the film seems to be multi-centric, in which, on one side: the struggle of a person coming out of a larger subject - Chambal rural life- keeps going on, while on the other hand, an attempt has been made to draw attention towards small but significant issues. Since the very beginning, initial dialogues and the expressions of the characters show that this is not a typical entertainment-spice film. Whether it's the attitude of officers in the training academy, later institutional problems in athletics, life after retirement and most importantly, family discord that gives rise to another personality within him; the film runs on a close and linked path. If we talk about the female cast, Mahi Gill has played the character of a rural woman of the 1960s and 70s in a praiseworthy way as Paan Singh’s wife. Some scenes seem to be a bit out of the box, which also matches the direction style of Tigmanshu Dhulia.

As indicated earlier, this movie has succeeded in drawing close attention to many untouched aspects. For example, the apathetic attitude of the policing system in troubled regions, the inherent contradiction between rural and urban culture, and even a feudalistic thinking in the rural environment is seen in parts. If we see this story in the Indian social system, then it seems normal but the way in which things are shown and kept is commendable. Tigmanshu has tried to show the common things in a pleasing way, by looking closely. Now, whether it is the mental and social interplay between a soldier and a person at home, or the moral side of a dacoit, this film has depicted itself in its own way.

Now if we talk about some deficiencies, their presence cannot be denied on the surface. For example: call it Irrfan’s magic or something else, the remaining characters have failed to make a solid impression in the viewer’s mind despite their strong acting ability. It’s because of the lack of proper space given to them. Somewhere the lack of artistic conviction is exposed, such as the absence of background music, which if it were a couple of them, the film would surely have touched another level of expression. There are rarely any uncomfortable scenes in the entire movie, which is another good thing.

The script, originally taken from the life of Paan Singh looks really impressive. Finally, when the final scenes come, they definitely leave a profound impact on mind of the viewers. Summing up, it would not be wrong to say that such a movie which seems to be perfect from every corner, is rare as per tradition of Bollywood. So it is definitely worth watching- not once but two or three times.


The author is a law student in National Law University, Lucknow and an intern at Academics4nation.

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