Tigmanshu Dhulia, who last year returned from a six-year hiatus with two films, Shagird and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, is now gearing up for another release, Paan Singh Tomar.
Irrfan Khan, who plays the title role, has decribed it as one of his best performances, and also the most physically and mentally demanding film of his career.
It was shot in the Chambal Valley and the barracks of one of our oldest army cantonments in Roorkee. For a dramatic race sequence, 49-year-old Irrfan trained with steeplechase coaches and still broke his ankle during the shoot of the film that opens on March 2.
Tomar, a national steeplechase champion for seven straight years, quit the sport and the army, to become the Bandit King of the Chambal Valley.
Tigmanshu heard about him during the shoot of Bandit Queen (1994) and resolved to make a movie on the baaghi (rebel) athlete. He researched for two years, visiting Tomar’s native village Bhind, interacting with his family and even meeting some of the dacoits, who had since surrendered and been respectably rehabilitated.
“We will not promote it as a sports movie on a forgotten hero, but as a real life drama of a a runner who became a rebel. We’re trying to identify a bandit or two to promote the film with Irrfan. We’ve initiated talks with a fewand their families, but it’s still too early to reveal names,” says Shikha Kapur, senior vice president marketing, UTV Motion Pictures.
Shikha believes this kind of a novel, short-burst promotional campaign will help the film grab eyeballs. Prod her on competition from Ali Zafar’s London Paris New York that releases on the same day and she argues, “Ours is a different genre. Even our target audience is the above 25 and predominantly male.”
The film has been complete for a while. Why the delay?
“We felt it needed to do the rounds of the festival circuit first and premiered it at the British Film Institute London Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival to name a few. The reactions have been very encouraging,” says Shikha, who admits that having Irrfan on board is both, an ace and a disadvantage.
“It makes him a global star at this point, but the fact is that Paan Singh Tomar is a movie with an Indian heart. We’re confident this is another race Tomar will win.”