We’ve finally seen “Pathaan.” Every single Shah Rukh Khan fan in the world has been eagerly waiting for this film to be released. To see the man raise his arms again with love in his eyes, to hear that husky, rusty voice, and to see him flirt once again with his mesmerizing eyes. Additionally, to see him finally do a fully packed action movie that was coveted by either the Salmans (Funny, I should mention his name in this review) of the country or the Akshays. The release of “Pathaan” has been the talk of the town for years, most recently for a song that raised the eyebrows of those who probably know nothing about films. A Yash Raj Films Spy Universe presentation, this film joins the ranks of other spy action films. The Tiger series stars Salman Khan and War stars Hrithik Roshan. It will be our multiverse of madness if Yash Raj Films decides to make a movie starring all these spies. What a spectacle that would be! “Pathaan” is an out-and-out spy action thriller filled with sugar, spice, and everything nice. Directed by Sidharth Anand, who previously gave us the jaw-droppingly good War; if anyone remembers, Sidharth also swam in the romantic comedy genre before giving audiences back-to-back successful action films, “Pathaan” being the latest one. How good is “Pathaan”? This Shah Rukh Khan film is a must-watch, why? How is this film more than just a Shah Rukh film?
“Pathaan,” just like any movie that deals with Indian spies, begins with Pakistan’s hatred against India and vice versa, the neighboring country plotting to strike in the wake of the removal of Article 370 in Kashmir. Pakistan would want retaliation, of course, but this time they plan to take their own sweet time before attacking India. No spy movie ever made in India has not mentioned Pakistan. It has become cliché after a point, but who cares if country-bashing helps people sell the movie? As an old rival of R&AW is spotted on the radar, lurking around in Paris, it is time for Nandini (Dimple Kapadia) to contact someone she believes is the only one who could deal with the situation at hand, Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan). She also recalls the work Pathaan has done to stop Outfit X, run by a former R&AW agent, Jim (John Abraham), who was supposed to be dead but has now resurfaced more powerful and legacy-hungry than ever. His organization runs as a private terrorist organization that picks up assignments in exchange for money from any entity. He runs Outfit X with no agenda or ideology but on a contract basis. Jim and his team have no allegiance towards any country but their organization. Dr. Rubina (Deepika Padukone), an ISI agent, joins Pathaan in the quest for a weapon that Jim himself is looking for, but the duo needs to get their hands on it before Jim does. Will they be successful in getting hold of this weapon of mass destruction, or will one of them indulge in the good old double-crossing?
“Pathaan” can be hailed as a comeback movie for not just our beloved Shah Rukh but the return of John Abraham as a suave villain who has no qualms about being the bad guy. The last time we saw him as a villain was again in a Yash Raj film, “Dhoom.” “Dhoom” was the start of an era where extremely good-looking men could become villains, and the audiences wouldn’t know who they should side with. Such is the matter in “Pathaan” as well. For the first time in years, a villain character was written with depth, shades of gray, and as someone who has a motivation. He is unlike villains in many other action films who remain tone-deaf, are just plain evil, and indulge in the ruthless killing. Here, Jim had a purpose, a reason behind the purpose, and a goal to reach. Someone who was betrayed by his agency is on a revenge spree by giving it back to them for their inability to save him or his family from a dangerous situation. Jim, played by John Abraham, surprisingly had better dialogues to deliver than anybody else in the film.
Keeping in mind the film was headlined by Shah Rukh Khan, the writer, and director had a good time putting down sinister, dark, self-aware, and sarcastic dialogues for Jim. We’re so happy to see veteran dialogue writers like Abbas Tyrewala churning out some witty lines. Siddharth Anand stuck to his strength, which is action, action, and only action. Again, I am happy to see audiences enjoying gore on screen and the filmmakers not holding back from showcasing it too. The movie is filled with action sequences, and that is where the story and screenplay take a back seat. That is alright because such films are only supposed to serve one purpose: to indulge and entertain, not stimulate the mind or start deep conversations. “Pathaan” does exactly that where the plot is predictable from the tee. What makes it indulgent like a dessert is making the film cinematically appealing by adding two gorgeous people from the Hindi film industry and the star of the Hindi film industry, who has been ruling it for almost 30 years; they give you a high-octane film, which doesn’t necessarily make sense, but the screen presence of all the three leads coupled with good dialogues makes the film highly engaging and watchable. The writers here have included two strong female characters, who, at many junctures in the film, outshine the leading men. Deepika Padukone’s character was brief, but she left an impact. Thankfully, she was not just gorgeous-looking eye candy like the female leads in any other James Bond movie. She had a goal, she made mistakes, and she was not going to lose at any point. Dimple Kapadia had a brief role in a male-dominated film, but it was refreshing to watch a female boss leading a team like a lioness.
Writers Siddharth Anand and Shridhar Raghavan make sure to deliver exactly what the audience wants from an action film. The plot is not very complicated, and it is good that the writers did not spend much time adding subplots over subplots, stuck to one-track storytelling, and concentrated only on the technical portions of the film, which are editing, camerawork, and elaborate action sequences. Casey O’Neill, who choreographed action sequences for Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible series, here delivers some excellent yet over-the-top action sequences, which are the only driving force that keeps the film going. None of the action sequences felt overbearing and exhausting. The best of the action sequences feature a certain Khan (no spoilers for those who haven’t seen “Pathaan” yet), which is an indication of a possibility of merging two spy universes under the “Yash Raj Films” banner. Interesting right? Kudos to the writers for writing the cameo with the utmost wit because it could have gotten cringe-worthy rather quickly. The callback from an old film starring the two of them was something the kids from the 90s always wanted to see. The only issue with the film was that too many green screens were used, and the CGI was not good enough to cover that. This is where “War” felt superior and authentic when it came to action choreography and action set pieces.
Vishal and Shekhar’s music felt like what we heard in “War,” but “Besharam Rang” has become an earworm. My only complaint was the background score. After listening to the “Vikram” BGM score by Anirudh Ravichander, a lot of the background scores in many films now seem flat. Even in this film, it is easy to understand that Vishal-Shekhar’s background score is heavily inspired by Anirudh’s work. How about Yash Raj Films hiring Anirudh next time to give the BGM score for their next spy venture? That would be an interesting collaboration, right?
The performance was what the audience came for, and the audience was given exactly what they wanted. Shah Rukh’s magnetic screen presence, his elegant dialogue delivery, his charm, and his wit—all of this and more is on full display. This man has helmed the Hindi film industry for so long; it is such a relief to see him when he comes in front of the camera. “Pathaan” is an out-and-out Shah Rukh film, something he deserved after years of not being able to take off. His last venture, “Zero,” was not a successful outing, but Shah Rukh has not lost his aura, and his self-aware humor works all the while. Shah Rukh is back, and how! And thank the rain gods for giving him the film that could project his magnanimous stature. Though it is rare to have a villain as equally strong in an action film that is riding on the stardom of one superstar, John Abraham’s Jim in this film is an interestingly written character with layers, which is not easily found in any action film of the past. The audience loved Shah Rukh, but it is hard not to gush over John Abraham’s smiling face that is set to destroy places as per his plan. John’s physical build and his brutal strength add a layer to his character, which reminded me of Bhallal Deva from the Bahubali films. An interesting arc that surprisingly left an impact
Deepika Padukone finally had more to do than showcase her body in that famous orange bikini shot. As an ISI agent, she is often two steps ahead of Pathaan and has made sure he knows of it. A female agent from the rival country not only manages to charm him with her ability to save herself and him. There was just an attraction between them, but she did not let her attraction get in the way of her goal. A leading lady driven by plans used her beauty to get what she wanted. Interesting inclusion of a femme fatale.
“Pathaan” is far from a perfect film, but it brings to the table what it is like a hearty meal. Just enough to keep us satisfied and not hungry. This film could have easily been derailed if the writers and directors had indulged in some romance between Dr. Rubina and Pathaan, but thankfully that did not happen. The number of times Tiger, Zoya, and Kabir were mentioned in the film, it is high time Yash Raj Films give us a few more films that will have characters from these films cross paths, and in the end, give us a mega film starring Pathaan, Tiger, and Kabir. Wishful thinking? “Pathaan” is a fun watch.