Tigmanshu Dhulia might have his own innovative ideas about cinema like any new generation director but he seems to respect the fundamentals of a good film -- story, good dialogue and good acting. There is no need for cinematic virtuosity which would only be a means of ostentation. In "Paan Singh Tomar"Dhulia displays fidelity to the facts of the hero's life -- the army man who shines on the athletic track field - and when he retires from the army and gets back to his village, he is sucked into family feuds and violence that mark and mar rural Madhya Pradesh, especially in Chambal, and elsewhere in north India. This may be an unfair generalisation because the violence in village India is endemic and pathological. But Dhulia presents this without too much dramatisation and that is why it stands out so much more starkly. The rural landscape and rural violence are captured without overt sentimentality, and there is much in this treatment of Dhulia that others like Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj and their likes can learn a lot from.
The other great aspect of the film is the simple and impactful acting of Irfan (Khan) and Mahie Gill. They brought sincerity and an understated intensity to their performance. The dialogue is witty and earthy. There are no punchlines but there are delightful throwaway lines when Tomar the simple soldier from Chambal tells his superiors in the army that his uncle was a "baaghi"(a rebel) and not a "daku", and that the police could never catch him. He says that all the "chor"or thieves are in government and that army is the only honest institution.
Irfan makes Paan Singh Tomar's character lovable without too much histrionics. Mahie Gill shows a lovely earthiness which is so different from the daring Paro of Anurag Kashyap's "DevD". Gill brings in feminine sensuality without making it vulgar. That is a wonderful achievement in itself. It is Irfan and Mahie who carry this film in many ways but Dhulia's dedicated telling of the Tomar story makes it memorable.