by Trisha Gupta
A young army jawaan returns two days late from his leave. Army discipline requires that he be punished, so he is told to pick up his luggage and run ten times round the ground. This is the sort of scene that would normally be evidence of the hero’s gruelling training, or perhaps the injustice of his lot. In Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film, though, our hero finishes his rounds so fast and so effortlessly that his commanding officer refuses to believe he’s actually done them. Do another ten, then, he says, looking on as the lanky young man from Morena runs merrily around the ground ten more times without the slightest sign of exhaustion. “It’s the first time I’ve seen anyone actually enjoying a punishment,” says the incredulous officer.
This is but the first of the wonderful anecdotes out of which Tigmanshu Dhulia has crafted Paan Singh Tomar: the tale of a man who first earned fame as a steeplechase champion and then, in a strange twist of fate, notoriety as a dreaded dacoit. Dhulia first encountered the tragic story of Tomar while in Chambal on the sets of Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen(1994), for which he was Casting Director. Now, 18 years and four feature films later, he has finally managed to bring Tomar’s story to the screen.