'Pathaan' review: Bollywood roars back with SRK's seat-edge spy thriller
King Khan is back after a four-year hiatus, and pours all his might, dimpled charm, muscle into the film to make it work. And, in a cool long-haired, toned mature avatar, he manages to pull it off with aplomb
Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan is a fast-paced, out-an-out entertainer packed with hi-powered stunts, superbly choreographed fights and edgy chases and songs shot in stunning foreign locales. Mercifully, this action thriller is not a crashing bore and keeps you glued to your seat.
There’s a lot going on, what with tense fight sequences on top of trailers and trains in Dubai and Russia, Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh scaling skyscrapers, dropping down on tall, imposing Russian towers from helicopters, jumping off cliffs in Spain, SRK performing a sky-dive to infiltrate a building from the roof and a bike chase on the electric blue frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia, and much, much more.
Clearly, the film, which has action director Casey O’Neill on board for Shah Rukh’s comeback vehicle, is a nod to Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise and James Bond movies out there. O’Neill has incidentally worked on Hollywood movies like Jack Reacher, Mission Impossible series, Tom Cruise’s Top Gun:Maverick.
The plot out there
There’s a plot in there somewhere – a Pakistani Colonel who hires a bad guy to unleash a biological warfare on India because the government has repealed Article 370 (ahem!). India has to pay for this move but this hideous revenge is being planned by one mad Colonel and not by the country Pakistan, just so you know.
Yash Raj Films’ spy universe, modelled on the MCU universe, is not to be taken very seriously. If you suspend your mental faculties then you can sit back and enjoy the ride. King Khan is back after a four-year hiatus, and pours all his might, dimpled charm, muscle into the film to make it work. And, in a cool long-haired, toned-body avatar, and mature too keeping with his age, he manages to pull it off with aplomb.
Since he has most of the punchlines in the film, largely patriotic, you feel that anytime, he may just start dishing out lines like “badi badi deshon mai choti choti baatein hoti rahti hain, Senorita (“small things keep happening in big countries, Senorita”). Actually, there is a ludicrous scene where Shah Rukh, while taking the fingerprints of a Russian lady, who has been drugged and is fast asleep, actually sings a hit song from his film Darr – Tu hai meri Kiran – when she suddenly wakes up.
ISI, RAW and more
Pathaan is very much on the lines of Siddarth Anand’s Tiger Zinda Hai and War. There’s a principal enemy who has to be brought down at all costs, whether it is a chillingly crazy mullah kind of figure and save nurses stranded in Iraq (like it happens in Tiger Zinda Hai) or save an Indian city from facing a lethal virus. There are spies who are going rogue (like in Hrithik Roshan’s War) and romantic entanglements between ISI and RAW agents. (the filmmakers seem to find this latter angle very ironic for some godforsaken reason)
In Ek Tha Tiger, Salman Khan falls in love with a Pakistani ISI agent played by Katrina Kaif and in Pathaan, Shah Rukh is smitten by the long-legged, sexy Deepika, who strikes awkward suggestive poses to seduce him in the controversial song, Besharam Rang. Incidentally, the song did not seem anything remotely different from the songs in Ek Tha Tiger or other Bollywood films. This ISI-RAW romance even has John Abraham’s character in Pathaan making a tongue-in-cheek comment asking whether ISI is a dating website or what? We like to know too.
The film has too many flashbacks which makes the story confusing at one point as the audience has to be told how Pathaan first met Rubiya (Deepika Padukone), an ISI agent who plays fast and loose with the Indian agent and how an orphan like him got named Pathaan. There is some discussion here about who he really is which is interesting to listen to.
In Pathaan, Shah Rukh, an Indian spy who had botched up a mission in Russia, has to be brought back from exile to hunt down Jim (John Abraham). Jim, an Indian spy, who has an axe to grind with ‘Mother India’, and went rogue is on a deadly mission to unleash a virus on an Indian city which will decimate the entire population in hours. It is so deadly that they will not be able to travel to neighbouring country like Pakistan to pass it on.
SRK to the rescue
But Shah Rukh with his superhuman power can only stop him. These Indian spies are indestructible and nothing can harm them. Not a knife wound or bombs going off next to them. Now and then, as Pathaan starts to falter, Shah Rukh steps in with some whistle-worthy lines that makes the audience go wild with joy or the superbly crafted action sequences keep you invested. The bike chase on Lake Baikal is a visual delight. Some of the lines Shah Rukh delivers seem stagey, as if he is sending a deeper message out there proving that nobody can love his country like he does.
Deepika looks superbly toned and does her fight sequences brilliantly. As Pathaan’s boss Nandini, Dimple Kapadia gives an admirably restrained performance and Ashutosh Rana as Colonel Luthra who has to rein in the spies is effective. Prakash Belawadi in a cameo like role as a scientist does not get enough screen time. While the cameo by Salman Khan as Tiger, with his trademark gamcha, which was already revealed by the filmmakers, sets the screen aflame as the erstwhile ‘Karan Arjun’ duo fight and vanquish the enemy together much to the delight of their fans.
This 146-minute long film ends after a gripping climax. It is predictable, typical Bollywood but turns out to be an entertaining ride with a rejuvenated, highly charged-up Shah Rukh at the centre of it all. With the interest and curiosity that Pathaan has aroused in the country, it seems like the beleaguered Bollywood is back in action once again.