Pathaan not only reinforces Shah Rukh Khan’s superstardom, it is knockout-senseless entertaining
Pathaan is a richly referential rollercoaster ride. Archvillain John Abraham playing Gym…sorry Jim and Shah Rukh as Pathaan (that’s all he called) play against one another with sparkling bonhomie.
Go ahead, Marvel at the audacity of an Indian director attempting something so cheekily high-end. It’s like Julia Roberts entering the posh store in Pretty Woman. How dare she!
Dare, Pathaan does. It dares to ante up the action, amplify its impact by simply making the stunts so lavish, they look like choreographic episodes orchestrated by Baz Luhrmann making a guest appearance in Bollywood, just like Salman Khan does in Pathaan right after intermission. (The mid-cut is totally called-for in this case: surely the audience needs to breathe!).
Salman and Shah Rukh with their easygoing camaraderie (did they really have any differences at any time at all?) bring the house down. Their collaborative swipes at Russian adversaries in a speeding train reminded me of Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan fighting the baddies in a train in Sholay. There is a Jai-Veeru element in the Khans’ Karan-Arjun bonding.
Pathaan is a richly referential rollercoaster ride. Archvillain John Abraham playing Gym…sorry Jim and Shah Rukh as Pathaan (that’s all he called) play against one another with sparkling bonhomie. The film is filled with heaving homages to films about the Terrorist & The Superhero colliding in midair in explosive combats that leave the audience gawking in disbelief: is that Superman? No it’s Shah Rukh Khan, ‘Khan’ said with a Yankee twang.
Twang reminds me of taang. Deepika Padukone, her leggy highness, is all over the place shooting bullets, cavorting in bikinis in forbidden colours and outlandish lands. She is badass and sexy. She crosses sides from Gym…sorry, Jim to Pathaan in the dexterous dialogue with devilry, without a burp. She is ISIS during a crisis, and a convert into an India lover when she wants.
This segregation of Good Terrorist and Bad Terrorist is terribly embarrassing. It’s like separating a Bad Rapist apart from a Good Rapist. You can’t do that! Pathaan dares to pitch good and bad terrorists against one another and gets away with it. Even archvillain Gym/Jim has a tearful backstory. So did bin Laden, I am sure.
The politics of Pathaan need not be taken seriously. It’s all done in fun, to teach …no, not so much the Jehadis as the Marvel creators, a lesson: we can do it as well as you. So dare!
Mehemaan nawaazi ke liye #Pathaan aa raha hai, aur pataakhen bhi saath laa raha hai! 💣💥 #PathaanTrailer out now!
Releasing in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on 25th January 2023.@deepikapadukone | @thejohnabraham | #SiddharthAnand | @yrf pic.twitter.com/npbZ0WFQjx
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) January 10, 2023
So how riveting are the faceoffs between SRK and John? I would rate them as Marvel-level excellent. No Indian film, not even the overrated RRR, has achieved this level of choreographic compendiousness in the fights. It’s like a feast of fury unleashed in welters of wondrous ingenuity.
Satchith Paulose’s cinematography is a joy to behold. As the film goes from one exotic country to another, Paulose’s exploratory lenses take a totally non-touristic view of the locations. The film looks organically panoramic, and that is no mean achievement.
My favourite action piece is the one shot on Lake Baikal In Siberia with Shah Rukh and John face-offing each other in splendorous strokes while Deepika skates around for no reason except that it is there: the luscious lake and the occasion to make the best of a plot that serves up lessons on nationalism while providing insane entertainment.
Shah Rukh’s desh-bhakti is evoked in a jaunty take-it-as-you-like fashion. It is John who gets to blow up the RAW agents in Dubai as he whistles Ae mere watan ke logon. Dimple Kapadia is effective after a long time. She plays Shah Rukh’s boss and gets to make a hilariously jingoistic dying speech after being infected by a deadly virus. No, not Covid, smallpox making a grand comeback, this being the film of comebacks.
The emotions are pretty pale and unconvincing. Even the women in Pathaan are at their best when fighting and killing. Wait till the last blast and let the end credits roll before we get the best part of the film: Shah Rukh and Salman sitting together wondering who will take over from them and finally concluding, no one can.
“Hum hi ko karna padega (we have to do it),” they sigh.
Oh, the perils of being Khan superstars.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.
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