Hindi films have been building the ‘desi’ equivalents of the Bond-Bourne franchise for some time now. Tiger was ‘zinda’ in a fast-paced double act, Agent Vinod did his job, BellBottom flexed and blazed, but it’s ‘Pathaan’ that has a spy flick filled with heavy doses of patriotism bouncing off the screen, starring Shah Rukh Khan as action avatar flaunting a vision of floppy-shiny aviators-eight packs (or is it twelve?).
That’s because it’s finally got what an action movie needs — non-stop action bolstered by glamorous leads, led by the man who can save the world, a high-octane set piece and an emo line all rolled into one.
Bonus: the very svelte Deepika Padukone matching SRK step for step, giving stiff competition to Katrina Kaif, who kicks serious ass in Tiger 2. There’s also Dimple Kapadia, building on her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, as equivalent of Moneypenny fox. And the main antagonist, played by John Abraham, who manages to get the most out of his lines.
The plot features an array of spies, sardonic RAW bosses (Ashutosh Rana), evil ISI generals and gun-toting terrorists inhabiting global hotspots. Pakistan is staring at Kashmir again (it will never know, will it). One of the native Indians, Jim (John Abraham), is a con man. Gorgeous ISI agent Rubina (Deepika Padukone) is equally at home in bikinis as she is in tight spandex. A deadly virus far more dangerous than Covid 19 is being cooked up in top secret laboratories. There is clear and present danger and a desh-ke-dusman creeps across the landscape. But breathe easy because India’s best and bravest, Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan) is just around the corner.
The problem with making a two-and-a-half-hour film is evident in the places where you stifle a yawn (yes, it can happen even when everything is moving at breakneck speed). Not to be outdone, we have Pathaan and Jim going head-to-head in the air (many helicopters were injured during the filming of this movie), gliding over ice floes and under icy water, chasing each other down winding roads . There is a certain amount of eye-rolling silliness that is normal for this kind of film. Plus, the third person mention of ‘Pathaan’ is getting tiresome (kitni baar bologe, yaar). Trust us, we got it the first time.
But the slack is tightened quickly enough: an entire train is commandeered in the service of a special appearance with a Pathaan and a keffiyeh-sporting spy whose signature moves had the audience roaring. And then there’s that song that caused such controversy weeks before it hit theaters. There’s really nothing in it that we haven’t seen before (YRF songs-on-beaches should rightfully be a separate Bollywood sub-genre), but there’s no denying that Pathaan and Rubina rock and wink at each other on Spanish Beach , is a hotter proposition than a potato. But let me reassure those who are worried: nothing shady happens, unfortunately, even when there’s nothing but a gun between them.
The film comes at a time when Bollywood and SRK are under siege. ‘Pathaan’ is the sateek jawaab of this beleaguered pathaan, who manages to pull off multiple feats in his comeback after a bunch of average to terrible films: giving it to the #BoycottBollywood brigade, bringing out the lowbrow and disheveled look at the rippling abs, give us a laugh-out-loud moment (won’t spoil it for you, but it includes a line from an early SRK character, also in a YRF film, that would have become extremely meme-worthy if memes were a thing in those days) and saves Bharat Mata.
Pathaan Movie Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, John Abraham, Dimple Kapadia, Ashutosh Rana
Pathaan Movie Director: Siddharth Anand
Pathaan Movie Review: 3 stars