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There was Gabbar Singh in the 70sthen there was Jageera in the 90sand now you have Paan Singh Tomar, another silver screen dacoit who manages to win the hearts of the audiences. Though, to be fair, Paan Singh is a reluctant rebel, forced by circumstances to pick up a rifle and wreak havoc in the badlands of Chambal, unlike the aforementioned brigands, who are evil because they love being so.
Based on a true story, Tigmanshu Dhulia's Paan Singh Tomar traces the life of the protagonist Paan Singh (Irrfan Khan), a youth from a poor rural family of Madhya Pradesh, who joins the armed forces and then the sports team of the defence services after his seniors discover the athlete in him. Groomed by a helpful coach Major Randhawa (Rajendra Gupta), Paan Singh goes on to win medals and win accolades for his country in the steeple-chase racing competitions both in India and abroad.
While on a visit to his native place to meet his wife Indra (Mahie Gill) and the rest of the family, Singh realizes that his presence is needed back home to take care of his land and protect it from greedy cousins. Paan Singh retires from the army and just as he is about to settle down in his new life, he finds his farms and family threatened by his unscrupulous relatives.
When all his efforts to achieve justice through legal means fail, a frustrated Singh takes to arms and becomes a rebel to avenge the attack on his family. Slowly but steadily, Paan Singh turns into an infamous dacoit (or 'rebel', as he keeps correcting his detractors), whose legend spreads across the entire North India, drawing more than his share of enemies.
As Singh turns into the Chambal version of Robin Hood, a ruthless police official MPS Rathore (Zakir Hussain) is unleashed to bring the dacoit to justice. The rest of the movie shows a cat and mouse game between the policeman and the rebel, which finally hurtles to a tragic end.
Needless to say, Irrfan Khan is one of the finest actors in contemporary cinema and he proves it beyond any doubt with his portrayal as the wronged innocent who takes up arms. His deadpan humour and tongue-in-cheek wit is as impressive as the intense outrage that he displays at the apathy of the government and society. As the military fatigues clad rebel, Irrfan's Paan Singh makes the audience root for him without any reservations, even as he slaughters a family of informers, who cause the death of his right hand man.
Though Mahie Gill does not have much to do, she does hold her own quite effectively as Singh's dutiful wife. Though the rest of the supporting cast too performs as well as can be expected, the movie belongs to Khan alone. The cinematography, editing and screenplay also deserves special mention.
However, on the flip side, the dialogues are in such a pure North Indian Chambal dialect that the urban audience might face difficulty in deciphering it at times, though we cannot really blame the director for it as the language does add to the authenticity of the film.
With Paan Singh Tomar, Irrfan Khan once again manages to add another feather to his already bedecked cap for sure
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars