It was in 1990s that I had landed in Guna, at an impressionable age as I stepped in pre-graduation. It was a typical, proverbial sleepy town, with dust arising from where the vision touched the edge of the sky, and that your vision could reach that edge without being obstructed by huge, obnoxious construction, was a testament of the smallness of the city. The railway station was small, with two platforms, rare passengers, though with good quality construction (owing to being the constituency of Late Madhavrao Scindia, or Raja Sahab, as he was fondly called, the village still living, in if not century but few decades behind, where hereditary royalty had not yet lost its gleam). Close to around a score of Tongas made up for what can be termed as public conveyance of the town, not that it needed anything more than that, as the whole of the city wrapped around the road which was called Sadar Market, giving a false sense of grandness. The road ran through the city, starting from what was called Vijay Stambh, with famous Shimla Lassi, at the cross road of Agra Bombay Highway, triangulating again around three kilometer hence, meandering through the colorful market, haat road and once again crossing the AB road at the junction near the Guna PG College, a historical looking building. The Town had three schools for class twelfth, and parents, unlike the crazy ones which we find missing from work and hanging outside the schools during exams in Delhi, had limited interest in kids studies, beyond occasional thrashing when complaints came home, as everyone knew everyone in the town. What was most interesting and common sight in the town, which surprised even me who landed in the town from Patna, was lanky, young men ( and old as well) in well pronounced moustaches and anachronistic dresses of Dhoti and Kurta on bicycles, with a rifle innocently resting on their shoulder. The most wonderful thing was the peace and kindness that you could see in them, and a civility bordering to servility in their being, in spite of the "Licensee" on their shoulder, the thought of which even today, brings a smile to my face when I see, the young men with ill-gotten wealth in and around Delhi. The town did not believe in an almost sly nod of head as a means of saying hello, it was always congenial, with proper fold of hands and words pronounced loudly.
From such lands of innocence and simplicity, rose the story of "Pan Singh Tomar" made by Tigmanshu Dhulia. The movie has as its leitmotif the common contempt that runs in our system towards anything that is above average, that is better than the common, that is honest and pure. It is this contempt that prompts a nation to forget the athlete who brings laurels to the nation without any thought of monetary gains, which is mostly minuscule, except for the Gods of cricket, which we find more than often selling everything from credit cards to liquor (of course through surrogate ads). There a sense of soul of India which one finds flowing through the entire length of movie, thankfully without any thrust on you, song, item or otherwise. A soul of the country which keeps on getting battered by the dead sense of justice of its common populace, and still looks at you with sense of betrayal and disbelief, as the Soldier looks at his coach with hurtful surprise, which pierce through your sensibility, when asked to change his sport, and eventually agreeing to the same to help the coach with his personal obligations (his daughter being married to another aspiring athlete, sure to lose his spot, in case our protagonist, Irrfan as Subedar Pan Singh Tomar were to continue in his chosen sport), so he opts out and go for Steeple chase, and by the simplicity of approach and immense capability makes his mark their. Army still offers a sanctuary, protected from the totally contrived world in which India outside the Cantonments breathes. The soldier, is a good Indian, who wants to go fight on the border in 1965, but is not allowed to go. The ignominy of not being able to go to the front to defend his land, is so well pronounced with restrained performance as trucks leave for the front, stays in your mind for long. A man who is not allowed to live his worth, might as well be dead. Time tides over and the soldier returns home and find a country almost hostile to him, the same country for which he had put his life on line. The humiliation and disenchantment is complete when the corrupt and lazy police officer throws the gold medals, he had won as an honour to the nation. The bitterness is clearly evident when Pan Singh laments that all media is hounding him once he became bad boy of London, and good boy of an indifferent nation was left to fend for himself by a occasionally non-existent and prominently corrupt governance. An innocent mind can not over explain the hopelessness of his situation to himself, a better man will always fight. It is this unreasonable mind which GB Shaw credited with all the growth in this world. The soldier, with his back to the wall, family on the run, then takes a conscious decision to move on the new path, of being a Baagi, as Dacoits in Chambal are called. Only thing that can prevent a man in such a situation from fighting back could be incapability or fear or sheer stupidity, contrary on all the counts, life leaves Pan Singh with few options. A review which I read mentioned (I suppose by Anupama Chopra) laments that we do not have a great enough villain. The evil brother of Pan Singh, is not a villain in the strictest sense, he does not go around drinking and womanizing and epitomizing all things evil. He is no Kancha China, he is a greedy man, who is allowed by the failure of the system to get beyond what he is entitled for, encroaching the living space of those on the neutral side of a corrupt system as they quickly slip from neutral to unfavorable once they take the fight up. It is the system which is the true villan, it is dark, over-arching over the canvas of the movie, it is cold, corrupt and incompetent (going by the stories of kids eating soap for lunch in Budelkhand, not much seems to have changed, whether we talk about five years of mis-governance, twenty two years of mis-governance or fifty years of mis-governance). That is the true villain and it is scary, can you pause for a while and think for a minute, imagining yourself in the shoes of the DIG of UP Police, who was claimed to be mentally unstable and promptly put into asylum, the moment he claimed being ready to expose the corruption of the Chief Minister of UP. The man did not even get a decent candle light vigil from the custodians of thinking india, forget any screaming match by Arnab Goswami on Times Now. The movie is not feel good movie, though it does have its own light hearted moments, it is like life. The truth and irony of life is that there is no happily ever after, irrespective of what kind of life you live, death is the invariable consequence. Only diffence that one can strive for is to see whether or not it was a life well lived. Pan Singh Tomar's life is thus vindicated in death, a life of sheer brilliance, which flowed freely with circumstances, a degree of regret, for loosing the dream mid-way, but in the end it was a life well-lived. Mahie Gill in a toned down way reminds of love in bygone era, with kids sent out to buy candies, offering stolen moment, a rare thing in today's world of debauchery where relationships are decided in a movie on the what drinks the two protagonists have on which day, or in another, where moral decline is considered alright as long as the last and lowest point of it is decided by the woman in the case, as the lady in question goes for seedy discs, B grade movies and Peep shows, and then decides to step away from a kiss from ex-lover, she being a married lady, to the satisfaction of faux-feminists. What we find here is restrained to the extent of offering a nobel feel. Pan Singh is a caring father, a conventional one, who loves his son enough to ask him to go join army, but is conventional enough to not being able to cry in front of him or embrace him. Some small, playful banter happens but that is the closes the son gets to his father, as is very common in Indian society, I do know how many times I had almost made stiff resolution to embrace my father and eventually failed to go beyond touching his feet, and find the resolution melt away. I do not know whether my appreciation of the movie stems from my appreciation of tall, and lanky Irrfan Khan with most interesting eyes in the industry, backed by years of struggle, or my own nostalgic memories of the landscape on which this story is written or my love for old world values of love, friendship and honor or scan respect for organized governance system which gives a feel of organized crime, Well, summing up the movie, to borrow from the lingo of the movie and from my past, "Je phillum to bhaiyya, hamaari maano to dekhni padegi, Jaa me jo baat hai, aur kisi phillum main nai, to mouda-moudin sange jaa ke dekh jaroor aao".