His long-awaited film Paan Singh Tomar, about the soldier-turned-athlete who went on to become a bandit, is in its final stages and director Tigmanshu Dhulia says the biopic will highlight the pitiful condition of athletes in India.
"It's (Paan Singh Tomar) a tragedy about Indian sports. Basically it's a sports film and not a dacoit film. It's another story about another unsung hero," Dhulia told IANS in a telephonic interview from Mumbai.
"There are a couple of sports activities that are highlighted like boxing...and cricket has always been there. But athletes still live in bad conditions and on a bad diet. We have not had a medal in athletics for long because their condition is really pitiful. The movie will highlight that too," he said.
The movie, which stars Irrfan Khan in the lead role, revolves around Paan Singh Tomar, who hailed from a small town in Madhya Pradesh. He won the steeplechase in the National Games for seven years in a row and his record stood unbeaten for a decade.
After retiring, Tomar went back to his hometown and turned into a bandit in the Chambal Valley after becoming a victim of social injustice. He was killed in a police shootout and the movie "ends how his life ends".
"When a national-level athlete and such a great army man suffered, no one helped him out...All his medals and the pride he gave to the country were of no use...he was left with no other option but to pick up the gun," said Dhulia.
"It's a very inspiring story. It requires a lot of grit and gut to do such a thing. Everyone doesn't have that kind of spunk in them. Because he was an athlete, he was an achiever and that is why he could do something like this," he added.
Produced by UTV, the biopic also features Mahie Gill.
Shot in the jungles of Uttarakhand and the Chambal ravines in Madhya Pradesh, the movie went on floors in December 2008 and is now in the post-production stage. The film is set to release in August.
Dhulia couldn't stop praising Irrfan for having learnt the ropes of a long distance runner from national athletic coach Satpal Singh for the film.
"Steeplechase is not just a race, there's a water parade, hurdles and everything...He broke his leg too while shooting that is why the film got delayed by six months," said the 42-year-old.
"He really worked hard and that is why I chose Irrfan because an actor like him could only do justice to this role...other stars don't have time to do such things."
"We were shooting in real locations in Chambal which was not easy. I wanted an actor who completely surrenders himself to the subject's need and does whatever is required and he did that. He is a great actor," Dhulia said.
Apart from the rigorous training, Irrfan had to change his looks too.
"For the older look, he had to grow a little beard and hair and look haggard. While for the younger look he had to look fresh and had to thin down," the director said.
"Irrfan had to look 20 as well as 50," he added.
After working as a casting director for Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen, Dhulia wrote the screenplay of Dil Se before graduating as director with movies like Haasil and Charas: A Joint Operation.
He also has to his credit TV serials like Just Mohabbat and Star Bestsellers to name a few. Dhulia's future projects include Milan Talkies and Bhiwani.