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RIP Irrfan Khan – Thank You For Giving The Sporting Reality Called Paan Singh Tomar

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Maqbool Miyaan in Maqbool, Saajan Fernandes in The Lunchbox, Rana Chaudhary in Piku, Harry Sims in Inferno, Police Inspector in Slumdog Millionaire, Dr Rajit Ratha in The Amazing Spiderman and Raj Batra in Hindi Medium. These are only some of the classics Irrfan Khan, who died on Wednesday at the age of 53, portrayed on the big screen that left a lasting impression on many people.

Apart from these wonderful characters, Irrfan Khan had a prominent role in many TV serials like Chanakya, Banegi Apni Baat, Bharat Ek Khoj and Shrikant.

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However, for a sports journalist, Irrfan Khan deserves a massive salute for one film. His portrayal of a sporting personality was realistic, unlike many biographical films of sporting personalities or events. His neglect and the aftermath of what happens when you are away from the limelight is a mirror to our psyche and thinking even today.

Irrfan Khan And Paan Singh Tomar Magic

If one has to see the genius of Irrfan Khan, then the 2012 film Paan Singh Tomar, a biography of India’s gold-medal winning athlete who turned into a rebel and was gunned down in an encounter by police is a classic.

For many sports journalist, Irrfan Khan’s portrayal of Paan Singh Tomar gave us belief that sporting biopics CAN be real. It need not have extra melodrama or emotional quotient to tug at the hearts of the audiences. Paan Singh Tomar gave us a really true sporting biopic.

Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar (Image Credits: UTV Motion Pictures)

For the uninitiated, Paan Singh Tomar was born in 1932 in Morena and he joined the Indian Army. It was during his time there that he became interested in sports and he developed a liking for athletics. For seven straight years, he won the National Games gold medal in steeplechase and narrowly missed out on a medal in the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games.

However, family disputes over land forced his retirement from the army. During the dispute, Paan Singh’s mother gets killed and he becomes a rebel. He forms a gang and kills nine villagers and it shakes up the administration. In a massive police operation, Paan Singh Tomar is gunned down in an encounter at the age of 49.

Dialogue Holds A Mirror To Society

Why is Paan Singh Tomar so important for us as sports journalists? Because of this dialogue between a local journalist and Paan Singh Tomar towards the middle of the movie. The journalist, played by Brijendra Kala, tells Paan Singh Tomar that you managed to hoodwink the police of three states.

To this, Paan Singh Tomar replies, “That’s the misfortune of our country. I crossed 28 barriers and 7 water pits to become the national champion, nobody cared. But, when I fooled the police and did a kidnapping, everybody started chanting ‘Paan Singh, Paan Singh’.”

The journalist agrees but Paan Singh Tomar admonishes him by saying, “Do not shed crocodile tears. Had I been a mere sportsman, would you have taken so much risk to come and interview me?” The journalist has no option but to agree.

This brief 35-second exchange sums up sports journalism and their misplaced priorities in India at the current moment. Even now, the main focus is on cricket. This is now supplemented by what goes on in social media, from Instagram to Twitter stories on banter between cricketers. Cricket still rules the charts when it comes to content and coverage.

Irrfan Khan deserves his portrayal of Paan Singh Tomar (Image Credits: Twitter)

When it comes to other sports and achievements, there is a footnote. This is the problem. Just a footnote. In the last couple of years, the exploits by our athletes apart from cricketers has ensured that there is sport beyond cricket in India.

There is a major scope for human interest stories about other athletes, who still undergo plenty of financial and societal strife as they look to gain acceptance in India.

For other sporting personalities, recognition comes too late after an epic fight with the government system. For many, they die without recognition and funds. There is still selective acknowledgement of sporting personalities even today in India.

The 35-second dialogue in Paan Singh Tomar shows us the mirror even today. Thank you, Irrfan Khan for giving us a REAL sporting biopic. In the words of Amitabh Bachchan, indeed left too soon.

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