Irrfan talks about his preparation for the role of an athlete-turned-bandit in Paan Singh Tomar and shooting on actual locales of Chambal.
Paan Singh Tomar has been ready since two years. What is the reason for the delay in release?
Once the film was shot and ready, our aim was to screen it at various film festivals. Some festivals only screen unreleased films. We could have released Paan Singh Tomar in 2011, but the entire year was packed with about four to five films hitting the screens practically every week. Also we were getting only fewer screens to showcase the film. It became very difficult for us to find a safe place for release.
What attracted you to the life of Paan Singh?
I was completely intrigued when I heard the story narration from Tigmanshu Dhulia. I felt a connect with the character and so could not let go of the project. I was also glad to know that the director always had me in mind to play the role of Paan Singh in his film.
Before this, were you aware of a personality called Paan Singh?
No. Like many others, I too was not aware of him. What I mean is, though he was a national Steeplechase champion, there was no mention of him anywhere. It was only after reading an article in a magazine in 1999 that Tigmanshu learnt of this man.
How did you prepare to play a real character?
Two months before the shoot, I took physical training from a Delhi-based national-level coach on Steeplechase. It was difficult but enjoyable. I also undertook lessons on voice modulation and pronouncation as I had to speak in local dialect.
How different was it to shoot for a biographical as compared to any other film?
It was a different experience because you need to be convincing in all aspects to resemble the person that you are essaying. Shooting-wise also, it was very different. We were filming the movie on actual locations where Paan Singh lived, with the locals and in the house where he grew up. You automatically connect when you are living somebody else’s life and delivering his emotions.
You mentioned actual locations. So where was the film shot?
On the rough terrains of Chambal. We also shot at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun, which we have shown as a sports complex. We even shot at Ludki with the army men.
How was the experience of shooting in Chambal?
It is a place where the borders of three states –– Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh meet. This is the most habitable place for bandits, because if they face a problem in one state, they just escape into another state. The Chambal ghati has small hotels and good roads for transport, making it better as a shooting location. All the actors were put up at Vasundhara Raje’s palace, which has now been converted into a hotel.
What did you all do after pack up?
The character required me to be physically fit. Hence after the shoot, I would exercise. Chambal is a beautiful place, so I would go for jogs in the evening. There were times when the entire cast and crew came together and played cricket. We even flew kites. As it is a bandit-infested area, we were not allowed to venture out of our hotel after 5 pm, but our security team took good care of us, making us feel very safe.
What kind of on-screen chemistry will we see between you and Mahie Gill?
Paan Singh and his wife shared a romantic relationship. Like every married couple, these two were also inter-dependent on each other. They didn’t interact the way couples in cities do. In the villages, the wife is very calm, she doesn’t talk much, but the silence between the two says it all. The film portrays how this couple, who stays in a joint family, tries to steal little moments for themselves.
What is coming next from you?
My forthcoming films are The Amazing Spider-Man, Life Of Pi, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 2 and Qissa.