Pathaan–the Review

Now that I have seen Pathaan on Amazon Prime, I shall first doff my cap and give a salute to those who bought tickets and went to see Pathaan in the theaters as a form of protest, your own personal resistance to the Hindu majoritarian fascist-nationalist-patriarchic government and their supporters. Your contribution to the collection of this movie, at the personal cost of your brain cells, all done in order that democracy shall survive, will be written in the annals (yes, note the pun) of history, as an act of resistance at the cost of self-imperilment, like the lone protester in front of a tank in Tianmen Square. Except there was not just one of you, but hundreds of 100 crores of rupee-contributing men and women, which just showed that there is no “ekla chalo re” when it comes to Pathaan.

Then, I will turn around and address those who boycotted the movie (or claimed to) because it was anti-national and anti-Hindu. It is nothing of the sort. Love for Bharat-Mataa is announced every few minutes, in a way that would make Manoj Kumar say “Aaj ka din bada mahaan hai”. For those who were upset about the association of the saffron color with “besharam rang”, let me assure you that what that color does for Deepika is the greatest advertisement for the bhagwa color captured on film, she heals from a bullet wound in the stomach in less than a day, while wearing the colors of saffron.

Now that we have dealt with the politics, for in today’s worlds of dueling outrage factories, this has to be done for every movie, let us look at Pathaan as something advertised as cinema. It is a collection of, to borrow a metaphor from the movie, broken eggshells of other better movies—Black Widow breaking out in Avengers, the heist scene in Black Panther, the mechanical apparatus of the Falcon, multiple heist situations from the Mission Impossible franchise, sequences from Bond movies, even a death scene from the Wrath of Khan, collected, and this I imagine since the movie gives me so little scope to, stitched together by the cinematic memories of 20-something “VP of content”s at Yashraj, SoBo nepo-kids in a nepo-organization, unmoored culturally from the market for which they are making movies, taking creative decisions involving crores of rupees, and adding scraps of things heard on social media like “Article 370” to give it some intellectual heft, while the adults with the “Chopra” surname are involved in the Netflix hagiography on their family, dropping in occasionally to make sure the movie is deemed inoffensive enough, and that none of the Buzzfeed-Huffingtonpost sensibilities of the creative team sink in too much into the narrative.

But does it work?

If we believe the box-office collections, then yes, it does. If something makes money, then that is its validation. Nothing more is needed. And in its defense, the movie takes great pain to present the hero, Shahrukh Khan, in God-like splendor, in the exact way his devotees want to see him, and there lies the core of its success: it does not challenge the core of its audience, the Shahrukh Khan fans, the cinematic equivalent of news channels that engineer their entire lineup to reflect the biases of their audience, no matter what they privately may think, so that their world-view is cushioned and validated. If the intent of art is to challenge, then no, you are looking in the wrong place.

To be honest, if you are expecting “art” while walking into a movie from the guys who brought you the “Tiger” franchise, and “War”, or as they call themselves the “Yashraj spy universe”, a statement that would make John Le Scarred, the joke is on you.

What you could expect is fun. And for me, that is where Pathaan fails. It is dreadfully boring, and this is someone who does not have particularly high standards, in that I consider Tiranga a classic, where Raj Kumar pulls out the fuse conductor, an impossibility of physics which both conducts as well as prevents it (the fuse part) and even found “War”, part of the same universe, entertaining.

One reason is the terrible special effects. For something this big budget, and not shy of pulling action set pieces from other movies, one just expected better. Some of the “fighting on train tops” and “heist scenes” and “missile firing” had such a Malegaon-effect vibe to be positively embarrassing, especially since you could see the original inspiration in your mind’s eye. As an example, Salman Khan seemed to be cut-pasted from the sets of Big Boss onto the roof of a train, and the way he and Shahrukh Khan hold Gatlin guns and operate them like electric toothbrushes, at least required quite a bit more in terms of digital believability.

The story lacks the minimum of coherence in a genre where expectations of originality are never high. Character development is as brief as a Yousuf Pathan innings, the villains helpfully explain their schemes before they execute them, and the twists can be seen a mile away. John Ab-Reham-Karo, in true signature style, drains his character of any menace or relatability, a six-packed void of emotion, charm and character, like the universe before the Big Bang, and is at the core of Pathaan’s “webex at 7 am in the morning” excitement quotient. Deepika Padukone has many scenes, but aside from her dance moves in “Besharam Rang” where she simulates peristalsis of the intestine, leaves very little impact on the narrative, much less, for instance, than her appearance in anti-CAA protests in JNU.

Okay there was maybe one moment from Pathaan that I genuinely enjoyed. No, not the phallic missile and the small-pox receptacles resembling giant testicles that have distilled water in them, but a very Marvel post-credits scene. In it, Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan, Pathaan and Tiger in the spy-universe, like two Greek Gods sitting on Mount Olympus looking down at the world of mortals, complain on how long they have to go on doing this, saving the world while ruminating on the lack of talent to replace them. It is a clever fourth-wall-breaking bit, where they are very obviously talking about the un-bankability of the new generation of Bollywood heroes, and the reliance on the industry on these two titans to provide commercial oxygen for the rest, thirty years after they debuted, doing the same old things till, as you can hear Salman Khan say, their backs hurt.

That, to me, was entertaining. And fun. The pity is that it took them an entire two and a half hours of vacuous nothingness, to get there.


5 thoughts on “Pathaan–the Review

  1. bro i am (rather was) a huge srk fan. i so wanted this film to work and it may hv worked on BO but i truly hated every scene. as a fan i was so so disappointed. (infact i dont remeber which was last movie i truly enjoyed of srk. may be to some extent chennai express). it was a terrible movie. not at all of stature of what i expect from srk. every scene and plot felt like lifted from some movie i have seen in past. i feel even sad that his next movie sounds pathan on steroid thats jawan.

    1. Boy, I was looking for someone to share it with…it is a weirdly boring movie . The way the injuries , the difficult situations disappear in thr subsequent scenes requires more than a total suspension of disbelief ..
      I could sit and watch the full movie , I was so distracted and disgusted

  2. Touché. I had the exact same reaction as you after watching this movie on OTT. And in your genius inimitable style, you expressed it perfectly. It’s wonderfully encapsulated in this line: “Character development is as brief as a Yousuf Pathan innings, the villains helpfully explain their schemes before they execute them, and the twists can be seen a mile away…”

    It’s a joy to read your posts. Well done!!!

  3. The running-on-top-of-train scene is straight from Uncharted 2 video game. Great to see you back!

  4. ‘peristalsis of the intestine’ 😀 Priceless phrases like this are the reason why I follow your blog. The review was far more entertaining than the movie!

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