In the past, director Tigmanshu Dhulia has made films like 'Saheb Biwi aur Gangster', 'Shagird' and 'Haasil', each of which has managed to establish the fact that he is a filmmaker who has a style and narrative of his own. That is visible in 'Paan Singh Tomar' as well which is certainly not a film that can be dismissed by any. Just for the sheer reason of appreciating the thought behind the film, a largely entertaining first half and a very good act by Irrfan, this film can be given a dekko.
The film is about the story of Paan Singh Tomar (Irrfan Khan) who was once an athlete but was forced to become a dacoit, or in his own words, a 'baaghi'. How he rose to the top of his game, respected some of his Army superiors (Vipin Sharma, good again), lost his faith in the police, turned his back to law, based his journey of crime on a personal issue, went on to raise a gang, refused to surrender and ultimately met his end is the core of 'Paan Singh Tomar'.
Another master stroke played by the director is to rope in Irrfan Khan to play the lead role. There hasn't been a blemish in his performances ever and yet again in a central role, he proves why even internationally there is so much curiosity to see him on the big screen. While he retains his originality, he never tries to go over and above the character and stays within the parameters that were written for Paan Singh Tomar.
No wonder, whether it is one of the defining sequences where Irrfan runs with an ice cream packet to the point where he warns his coach of minding his language to those couple of romantic scenes with Mahie Gill (playing his wife and coming up with a decent act in a very small part) to a verbal spat he gets into with a cop to the moment of reckoning where he picks up a gun, Irrfan just manages to make a scene his own. What also holds good interest is each of the shots where he interacts with a journalist (Brijendra Kala, natural again) that holds the plot for the entire first half and also the early parts of the second half.
However the film doesn't quite sustain a similar vigour from the middle portion of the second half onwards. Once it is established that how the gang was set and it's various escapades, there isn't much left to be told in this story. Double crossing, kidnappings, police encounter etc. start losing their zing and the arrival of Zakir Hussain doesn't quite succeed in bringing back the momentum. The finale isn't as hard hitting either that one would have expected which means 'Paan Singh Tomar', which promised a lot and also held well for a good duration, ends up being a good, though not exceptional affair.
Still, one thing that really impresses about 'Paan Singh Tomar' is an abundance of wit and sarcasm in number of sequences. Really, one felt that this would be an out and out hard hitting drama and rely primarily on performances and acidic dialogues. However as it turns out, Tigmanshu Dhulia incorporates number of ingredients that allow the film to take a largely entertaining route for most of its duration. Now if only the film's second half could have been further trimmed with better control over the proceedings and avoidance of repetitiveness that seeps in, 'Paan Singh Tomar' may have fetched a 'must watch' status.