Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, it’s Pathaan, and he runs, he rides, he swims, and he flies all across the planet. The return of the Baadshah of Bollywood to the big screen was with a bang. However, as tough a pill as it might be for many to swallow, the bang was fake, just like every other scene of the film. Considering the kind of an actor we’ve understood him to be, SRK himself must have realized just how ridiculous the film will be. Yet he went all in because he had his finger on the pulse of the masses and knew that it was exactly what they wanted him to do. “Pathaan” thrives on stardom, and director Siddharth Anand ensures that he utilizes it in every way imaginable. The result is another concoction of sequences borrowed from the most popular Hollywood action films, with SRK as the “face” (only). Let’s break down “Pathaan” and see all that’s wrong with the film because there is hardly anything right. So fasten your seatbelts…
Before talking about the film, let’s admit that despite how bizarre Bollywood action films may be, they always have the support of the larger portion of the masses. People love to see their favorite “heroes” fighting off hordes of bad guys, jumping off airplanes, and firing machine guns bare-chested, no matter how or in what condition, because we live in a country that has been bombarded with such mindless stuff for a long time to the point where nothing else matters. And we have no right to question this because films are, after all, a means of entertainment. However, as far as film culture is concerned, we have reached a point where sense and sensibility are also taken into consideration, and even if a film earns 300 crores in the first few 3 or 4 days of its release, there is a part of the audience that will point at the film’s credibility if need be, be it due to being subjected to movies from around the globe or due to the way films are perceived and analyzed nowadays. Herein lies the division between those who love to be entertained when watching a film in theaters and those who aren’t going to absolve a film of its taken-for-granted commercial excess no matter its success.
It took Shah Rukh Khan 4 years to make his return; this long span was enough to make his fans think that he was cooking something interesting. Then the trailer of the film showed enough to charge the audience with an impatience that was felt before the release of every SRK film. And more so, there was close to no promotion for the film, either by SRK or by YRF. Just the trailer and the songs. But deep in the hearts of those who know better, doubt lingered over SRK’s decision to say yes to the film. High-octane close combat meant stunt doubles and rocket launchers, and skydiving and gliders meant large-scale VFX. Everything turned out true, and it is something that we all have been subjected to, starting with the Dhoom franchise (also YRF). Then arrived Rohit Shetty with his cop universe. And finally, we have YRF’s spy universe. Needless to say, we knew what we were in for with “Pathaan.” Then why are we even talking here? Because it matters. Maybe it is SRK, maybe he is back, and maybe we love him, but then we also need to accept that the only reason why “Pathaan” has earned so much is that it has SRK and not anyone else. It is he that people are paying to see and not the film.
Now, coming to the film itself, director-writer Siddharth Anand, writer Shridhar Raghavan, and writer Abbas Tyrewala turned the handful of stones they had left unturned in “War.” All kinds of transport have been used in the film, from bikes to cars to helicopters to trains to planes. It seems that the creators compared the level of activity with the number of second-hand factors they could incorporate in the primary storyline rather than using the actors to do so. Shah Rukh’s face is deep-faked on top of a stunt guy’s face in the train fight sequence. Perhaps, the producers realized that deep-faking two guys would be much too costly, so they decided to leave Salman, sending him only one guy at a time in the sequence, which would allow him to take his time and fight. But again, if we take the whole film for granted, something that Yash Raj Studios did too, we also have to accept this treatment and keep our suspension of disbelief locked in one corner of our brains. After all, age is not kind. Finally, the sense of patriotism that has also been pushed into the remaining spaces in the screenplay appears to be no more than a publicity stunt.
It seems that the first question that came to the minds of the creators was what they could make SRK do in the film and how they could make him look cool doing so, although they didn’t necessarily succeed in the endeavor. Somewhere in Africa, India, UAE, Spain, Russia, and France are among the places that we see in the film. This is the only versatile aspect of the script. Other than this, it is just the bombardment of loud background scores that is forced upon every other scene. Shah Rukh and John have dedicated scores, while Deepika, besides her over-the-top objectification that has been ludicrously and horrendously overshadowed by the protests over the color of one of her outfits (thanks to the so-called religious tolerance of the so-called Hindutva groups in this country), is given a dedicated song. John is a decent villain who has no option but to make do with what he has been provided with. Deepika’s character has got nothing to do and is only put in the plot due to the dance number and Siddharth Anand’s pseudo effort to show strong women, something that he did with equal conviction in 2019’s “War” with Vaani Kapoor. Putting a gun in the hands of a woman doesn’t make her a strong character, makers, grow up. Overall, “Pathaan” thrives on sheer stardom, and the makers misuse it to give us, the audience, a loud action film that we have deliberately decided to overlook the faults of.
On a personal note, Colonel Luthra, trying to justify RAW’s unresponsive attitude towards Jim, RAW’s best agent, and his pregnant wife, tells Pathaan that a soldier never surrenders. Jim’s pregnant wife was shot to death in front of his eyes. “Pathaan” tries to reason with Luthra, asking if RAW would have done the same thing had it been a minister and his family in place of Jim. This is a good counter. However, at the end of the film, Pathaan contradicts himself and tells Jim that a soldier never asks what his country can do for him but what he can do for his country. I would like to see how many soldiers are ready to sacrifice the lives of their wives and children for their country. I’m no soldier, but this is a manipulation of nationalism. But then again, considering the present state of this country, manipulation of nationalism doesn’t seem wrong, does it? And if it’s indeed all about sacrifice for one’s country, I’m forced to borrow my words from World War I poet and soldier Wilfred Owen, who asked what’s the use of passing bells to mark the death of soldiers who die like cattle.