Paan Singh is a gifted runner who is a jawan in the Army. His talent for running brings him to the notice of his seniors and soon he is the National Champion in the Steeplechase, winning the title for 7 years in a row, even representing India in international events. However, his uncle has usurped his land in the village and he resigns from his post as a Subedar in the army to go back to his village. But his attempts at trying to get his land back with the help of the Collector and the Police are rebuffed. His uncle beats up his son and even his mother. Angered by this injustice and the ineptness of the law he turns into a dacoit to take his revenge. Very soon, his gang, trained in Army discipline becomes a much-feared one, earning money through kidnappings. Finally, he is betrayed by one of his own gang.
The movie brings into the spotlight the sad state of Indian sports and the apathy of the Indian government to its shining stars. The end credits talk of several Indian Olympians who have died penniless. I hope this make politicians not only hang their head in shame but try and change the state of affairs.
Irrfan Khan as Subedar Paan Singh is outstanding. He prepared for this role rigorously with steeplechase coaches, even breaking his ankle at one point during filming. He called the experience "the most physically and mentally demanding film of my career". He is intense, focused and manages to make you blur the line between right and wrong so that one forgets that dacoits are not heroes but dangerous criminals who can kill unarmed people. Mahi Gill has a small role as his wife and their few scenes together are charming.
The background score by Sandeep Chowta Projects stands out for its sensitivity. I wonder if its part of the soundtrack CD. There is a charming item number in a field, that which will leave you smiling. The movie was shot in Chambal and the contrast between the beauty of the place and the violence it contains is quite stark.
The movie is a little too long and slows down in a few places but it is an honest movie. There is a scene at the police station when Paan goes to complain about his son being beaten up and shows newspaper clipping about his athletic prowess, which the Inspector cannot comprehend,that sums up the movies message with heart aching perfection.
This movie cannot be missed. It makes you sad and angry and leaves you with a sense of pride and love for this athlete turned baghi. It is a triumph for the Director and for Irffan Khan.