“A dacoit is found in Parliament, and not in jungles.” Be prepared for this power-packed dialogue in Irfan Khan’s Paan Singh Tomar, a biopic releasing in theaters on March 2.

Becoming a bandit in the Chambal valley may be considered a matter of pride for some but Tomar’s case as being enacted by Irfan projects him as an outlaw who is agitated by his angst.

Did anyone hear the great athlete Paan Singh Tomar saying, “Nobody knew me as a sportsperson; people recognized me only after I became a bandit”?

“Tomar was not just another athlete. He was special,” says film Director Tigmanshu Dhulia who has tried to unearth the fascinating but little-known tale of the medal-winning athlete and army man who became a dacoit.

Is it a coincidence that Bollywood is also chasing another legendary athlete with Farhan Akhtar gearing up to run on screen as Milkha Singh? This biopic also goes to the floor as this post is published.

To up his head, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has just bought the Flying Sikh’s shoes that he wore at the 1960 Rome Olympics for Rs.24 lakhs.

May be that gave Paan Singh Tomar’s producer UTV a good run to get the release scheduled although the film was ready for long. Paan Singh Tomar has already been screened at the London Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, South Asian International Film Festival 2010 and New York Film Festival.

Paan Singh Tomar was an exceptional athlete, who ruled the steeplechase event (a 3,000 meter obstacle race that includes a water jump) at the National Games seven years in a row (his record stood unbeaten for 10 years) in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and represented India at international competitions.

He was a Subedar in the Indian army when he took premature retirement to go back to his village near Morena in Madhya Pradesh. There he became entangled in a dispute over land.

He approached the police and the panchayat, but got no help, even though he showed them his gold medals and newspaper cuttings and photographs of his exploits.

So he decided to take the law into his hands and eventually became a dacoit. He died in a gun battle with the police in 1981, at the age of 50.

Dhulia says he chanced upon Tomar quite by accident in a magazine article. That was in 1991 and Dhulia was working then as casting director on Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (which too was shot in the Chambal valley). “The moment I read it, I knew the story had potential and could be made as a commercial film. I decided that the day I became a director, I’d make the film.”

Apparently, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Paan Singh Tomar would be inspirational films about two athletes, who went on to create history. However, only time will tell which film will finally rein victorious.

Irfan Khan trained rigorously with steeplechase coaches, even breaking his ankle at one point during filming, and he told g caffe that this experience has been “the most physically and mentally demanding film of my career”.

As a matter of fact, Irfan has already got a boost with Paan Singh Tomar, as the shooting demands have given him a better shape and he’s definitely looking like a long-distance runner.