India Masala

Bollywood and culture in an emerging India

Paan Singh Tomar: Slow and steady


The story of an athlete who gives up running and ends up becoming a dacoit on the run from the law may sound improbable. Why would a successful sportsman pick up a gun and kill people?

Director Tigmanshu Dhulia tries to answer that question in his biopic of Indian athlete Paan Singh Tomar, a seven-time national steeplechase champion. Tomar turned into an infamous dacoit in his later years, terrorising entire villages in the Chambal valley of central India.

Irrfan Khan plays the protagonist, an impoverished small-town boy who joins the Indian army just after the country’s independence from Britain. Tomar’s supervisor recognises his talent for running and transfers him to the sports wing. Tomar shines, breaks national records and competes in international meets, all the while running barefoot.

His career comes to an end when a family feud forces him to retire from the army and return to his village. When his mother is killed and his son brutally assaulted, Tomar seeks help from the police, identifying himself as a former athlete. But the local police refuse to help, telling him his medals and certificates are of no use.