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Irrfan Khan, the man who reminded us of Paan Singh Tomar’s glory

Irrfan Khan, the man who reminded us of Paan Singh Tomar’s glory

Md Imtiaz

Published: 29 April 2020 7:40 AM GMT

Veteran actor Irrfan Khan passes away at the age of 54, after being admitted to Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital on Tuesday, where was under observation for colon infection. The actor in 2018 had announced that he’d been diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour.

Irrfan’s career spanned several decades and industries. Acclaimed for his roles in Indian cinema, the actor was also involved in several international blockbusters such as Slumdog Millionaire, Jurassic World, The Amazing Spider-Man and Life of Pi. In India, his most famous films include his debut, the Academy Award nominated Salaam Bombay!, Maqbool (2004), Paan Singh Tomar (2011), The Lunchbox (2013), Haider (2014), Gunday (2014), Piku (2015) and Talvar (2015) and Hindi Medium (2017).

Irrfan Khan was one of India's finest actors, who's played everything from cult figures to cold killers. The versatility with which he played different roles, Khan found the pulse of his nuanced character in the Paan Singh Tomar biopic where he played the Rajput steeplechase champion turned dreaded Chambal dacoit.

Poster of Paan Singh Tomar - movie directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia Poster of Paan Singh Tomar - movie directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia

Paan Singh was India's steeplechase champion for seven years, the record holder for the 3,000 km 3,000 m steeplechase event in 1958, a soldier and a struggling farmer before he entered the Chambal ravines.

Khan modelled the Paan Singh character after his father. ‘There are some roles which need models in front of you,’ he told Anupam Kher in an interview. ‘I couldn’t find anybody. But I had these images of him [his father]. That really helped me. The way he walked, carried himself, that inspired me.’ ‘In a way Paan Singh Tomar was my tribute to my father,’ he added.

Khan was 45 years old when the film was released and he did all the scenes of the races and steeplechase events himself. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia was ready to use a body double, yet Irrfan insisted on performing in all the scenes himself. Despite a trainer working with him, Irrfan had an accident and he tore a ligament. There is a scene towards the beginning of the film when Paan Singh is punished and asked to run rounds of a field holding his luggage above his head. He is wearing the army fatigues with heavy shoes. And unfortunately, Khan torn the ligament two days before that shoot.

Khan trained for many months getting into shape (his lean body is perfectly designed for a role like this) and surely it must have been a challenge for an actor who is in his late 40s. The film spans most of Tomar's adult life -- from the late teens to the mid-50s, and Khan does it with great finesse.

Khan is mesmerizing in the film—an innocent, naive, charming athlete, a man with a clean heart, who later became an angry, menacing outlaw. The camera loves him and it is impossible to look away from the screen when the focus is on him. The movie is elevated by Khan. Without romanticizing Paan Singh, he showed his basic honesty and gives him real depth. As an actor, Mr. Khan rarely does the expected. You can’t take your eyes off him.

Also read: Top 10 Indian sports movies of the decade

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