India mourned the loss of one of its finest actors in unison on April 29, Irrfan Khan. The 53-year-old had the panache to pull off any character with ease, and did a variety of roles. His coming off age act as ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ in which he played the protagonist, winning several awards brought him in the limelight amidst the masses. Tomar’s story was inspirational, adventurous and rebellious at the same time.


Born in a village Bhidosa near Porsa City in a Rajput family on 01st January 1932, Paan Singh Tomar’s family lived on the banks of river Chambal in the erstwhile Tonwarghar district in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. His uncle, Dayaram Singh Tomar owned most of the agricultural land in Bhidosa.   


Standing at 6’1 ft, Paan was lanky and an able runner. He joined the Army as a subedar (Warrant Officer) under the Bengal Engineers Regiment at Roorkee. He was a national ranking athlete, but his real perseverance was revealed in the army. Stories say that he started running seriously after a dispute.

He got into an argument with his instructor in his regiment who ordered Paan to run numerous laps on the parade ground. Senior officers saw him running and were impressed. Tomar was then exempted from regular duties and was put on the special diet that was made available to army sportsmen. He also enjoyed several other perks and benefits.


The man with a hard, angular face represented India in steeplechase at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo. Paan was the national champion in steeplechase for seven years. His national record of 9 minutes and 2 seconds in the 3000-meter steeplechase event remained unbroken for 10 years. His participation in the 1962 Indo-China war and 1965 Indo-Pakistan war was barred due to his sports career. He hung up his running shoes in 1972.

Why did he become a Baaghi (rebel)?

His brother Maatadeen had sold 2.5 beeghas of land to his nephews for a meager Rs 3,000. He demanded his share of the land back. The Panchayat is called and the new owners were ready to give, but they wanted their money back that Maatadeen had already spent lavishly. Paan got the money from his army savings, but the nephews backtracked and the Panchayat didn’t help him. The feud continued and Paan promised to take revenge, but did nothing until his nephews beat his son.  


He became a rebel that day. He killed eight people, and a bounty of Rs 10,000 was kept on him.

Circle Inspector Mahendra Pratap Singh Chauhan and his special task force of 500 gendarmes cornered and shot dead Tomar on October 1, 1981. 14 other members of his crew were also killed. The standoff and gunfight lasted over 12 hours.


Irrfan’s portrayal of this man is one of the finest biographies made in the history of cinema, and this man’s portrayal as a dacoit is one of the most complexly-written tales in the history of India.  


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