With the monstrous success of “Pathaan,” one thing that has come to the forefront is that despite the film relying heavily on the star power of Shah Rukh, writers and directors did not give all the ammunition to only the action set pieces or choreography. For the first time in many years, a Hindi action film had a decent story and screenplay, and the makers did not focus entirely on technical aspects. There are a bunch of films made in the last decade which were sold as action films, but on viewing, one realizes the makers put no effort into putting together a good screenplay and story. The whole point of an action film is to entertain, but how long can the audience stay focused only on the action spectacle? They need something else to fall back on if the selling point of the film becomes exhausting. It has been years since we have seen a delicious villain on the big screen, where the writer put in work to make sure the antihero is also given a believable back story, along with giving him an arc and a goal that he has to achieve. Pathaan gave us one in the form of Jim, portrayed by John Abraham. After we were done watching the film, the movie felt more like a Shah Rukh Khan – John Abraham film than just a Shah Rukh Khan film. John’s character managed to create an impact. Despite flaws in the screenplay, Jim as a villain was given an unorthodox introductory scene, just like Shah Rukh was given, which proved that the villain is as important and ruthless as Shah Rukh’s character is going to be. The opening scene of Jim in Dubai paved the way to let the audience know that Jim is someone who can’t be messed with, and he will remain ten steps ahead of Pathaan’s team.
Films like “Race 2,” “Agneepath,” “War,” “Raees,” “Ghajini,” “Jai Ho,” “Suryavanshi,” all Rohit Shetty cop films, “Bell Bottom,” and the “Baaghi” series: out of these, only a handful of these films had a villain that had a character arc who could be remembered in few years after the film is out of the theater. There is no dearth of action films in India, and the above-mentioned are some of the few successful action films that were known only for abiding by genre conventions and not for any standout characters, be it the lead or the villains. Even Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond, “No Time to Die,” did not have a fleshed-out villain who would seem terrifying to the audience. Mads Mikkelsen in “Casino Royale” and Javier Bardem in “Skyfall ” upped the ante when it comes to flesh-and-blood villain characters written with character. Hrithik Roshan’s Vedha from Vikram Vedha comes close to being a notorious villain with a definitive arc. Rishi Kapoor’s character in “Agneepath” had some meat in it, and Ranveer Singh in “Padmaavat” was written as an out-and-out villain, but this film comes under the genre of historical action drama. Only Sanjay Leela Bhansali in “Padmaavat” and Karan Malhotra in “Agneepath” stayed true to writing villains as people who had a history, intention, and target. “War,” though it was produced by the same production house and directed by the same person who delivered Pathaan, Sidharth Anand; worked because of the suave nature of the leads and not because of the well-fleshed-out villain in the screenplay.
It is after sometime, we get to see a villain who was as good as the lead of the film and was able to shoulder the film apart from Shah Rukh and Deepika doing heavy-duty work to take the film forward. “Pathaan” begins with the antagonist on the other side of the border contacting Outfit X, and we hear John Abraham’s voice as he accepts the contract from the Pakistani army to rattle the Indian government and the government’s secret agencies. The film began by introducing the villain to the audience first and foremost. This is a tease for what audiences will be looking forward to once Jim and Pathaan face each other. Jim’s character was eerily like John’s character in the first film of the “Dhoom” series. “Dhoom” also had John Abraham headlining the pack of villains, who were a bunch of robbers using super-fast bikes to make a very fast getaway after every robbery. In “Pathaan” again, John gave us an interesting look into Jim, who was very close to giving his life for the country he served when things went south quickly. According to the tale told by Jim, he and his wife were kidnapped by the same terrorist organization from which he’d rescued his people as a part of an assignment. As an act of retaliation, the terrorist outfit hunted him and his wife down and tried to negotiate with the R&AW, but they refused to deal with terrorists. Jim lost hope when he realized this bunch of armed terrorists would not just torture him, but kill his wife too, and they do just that. As an act of revenge against those for whom he was always ready to sacrifice his life, Jim was abandoned at his weakest moment. He creates Outfit X as an act of vengeance, works on a contract basis without any ideology, and makes sure he will always take up assignments if they are targeted against India.
Whenever Jim’s character showed up on the screen, there was always something to look forward to. He always had multiple plans to make sure he stayed at least ten steps ahead of his rivals; in this case, it was Pathaan and his boss Nandini. Jim also had worked under Colonel Luthra, who is Nandini’s boss, and his inability to negotiate with the terrorists led to Jim going all rogue. Writers Shridhar Raghavan and Siddharth Anand and dialogue writer Abbas Tyrewala made sure not to give us a cardboard cut-out villain who indulges only in showcasing their body and stopping all the blows coming their way. Here Jim had an aim he carried with himself, which motivated his anger towards R&AW. Jim was surprisingly given wittiest dialogues than the leading actor and actress to let people know that, even though Jim is the villain, he still has a say over what is happening around him, and that things would go south quickly for Pathaan and Dr. Rubina if they do not take Jim’s intelligence into consideration. Pathaan and Dr. Rubina knew crossing Jim would be a dangerous idea, and that’s the reason they plan to work around him and not double-cross him to make sure Jim doesn’t find anything off-putting about his plan to launch the mutated smallpox virus into Indian airspace. Writers did not make him tone deaf, but cleverly made him physically stronger, and Pathaan’s weakness is something Jim is also aware of. Pathaan would always do the right thing, unlike Jim, who would leap even if it meant harming himself. Jim’s ability to look through his rivals was a character trait that was hard to find in any of the previous action films.
Jim’s character remains one of the best villains written for a Hindi action film. Something no writer has attempted in the past because an action movie calls for little more than showing off the lead actor’s power from the start till the end. Here the director and writers dared to showcase Pathaan’s weaknesses, Rubina’s weaknesses and, at many junctures, reveal that maybe Jim has the upper hand. “Pathaan” thankfully did not end up being a deadbeat action film where there are just non-stop, over-the-top sequences. Thank you to the makers and the writers who genuinely gave enough layers and wit to the villain.