Bollywood idols Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone are the last few superstars standing who can pull off a spectacle of a film with swagger, gravity-defying stunts, and swashbuckling heroism. They do just that -- generously in ‘Pathaan’ -- a potent blockbuster ball of fire and bluster about a pair of invincible secret agents gone rogue or rusty or plain randy.
Be warned the stunts are spectacular, but long -winded towards the climax, Khan, who makes a comeback to the big screens after four long years, plays the fierce titular character who wears his patriotism on his bulging sleeves. The opening scenes are an unapologetic eulogy to the genre of good-old-action heroes who wear their machismo like a proud badge of honour.
Pathaan is the kind of super-agent who’s revered among his peers and feared greatly among his enemies. But a botched-up covert operation where Pathaan makes a few missteps costs him heavily as he becomes a pariah among his team. But his bravado and tales of revelry is almost legendary among his peers. While his tousled long hair and wardrobe that is designed to show his gleaming well-oiled torso might make you think he’s a rakish pirate, he's the kind of trained commando who can thwart terrorist attacks against India with pure brute strength and with his wits.
But he meets his nemesis in the form of the agent-turned-mercenary Jim, played wickedly by John Abraham. The first half in which Abraham outwits Pathaan and his tribe is wildly entertaining. And throw the stunning bodacious Deepika Padukone as Dr Rabia from Pakistan into the mix and you have an explosive pot of agents who have their own agendas to battle with.
‘Pathaan’ is a star-driven crowd pleaser that’s hugely aware that they are dealing with indestructible real-life matinee idols can get away with murder. And they do. These agents are Bollywood’s James Bond incarnates who can fly off buildings, swoop into fancy lockers, and escape multiple mid-air explosions without fracturing too many bones.
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The movie relies a lot on Khan, Padukone, and Abraham’s collective star power. While you may find some of the dialogues borderline corny, these actors manage to pull them off with gravitas and a lot of grace. We also need to take a moment here to marvel at Padukone’s svelte body.
Just like the big boys she gets to do her share of crazy stunts, but finally it all boils down to Pathaan playing her ultimate saviour.
While it may reek of sexism as to why a trained agent like Rabia would need Pathaan to save her, the thrill of such movies is when the buffed-up boys play with fancy gadgets and guns and pretend to be in total control.
Like movies that are high on stunts, spectacle, and stars, this film doesn’t have much of a plot. Their hunt to thwart a biological warfare orb containing a deadly smallpox virus is a reason enough for Pathaan-led JOCR (Joint Operative Covert Research) team to fire from all their cylinders.
The best part about this film is the stunt sequences executed in various parts of the globe. The action scenes set in Dubai’s Downtown Area and Palm Jumeirah – where Pathaan and Jim indulge in an adrenaline-pumping car chase sequence – is engaging and so are the scenes set in Siberia’s Frozen Lake. This is a spy adventure set in various parts of the globe and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t keep track of the locations that these spies end up in.
‘Pathaan’ is like fine-quality butter popcorn. Don’t look for nutritional value, just enjoy the way it pops and tastes.
All actors including Khan, Padukone, and Abraham are in fit and fierce forms. Even when they mouth innocuous lines on sacrifice, martyrdom, and duty of an agent, they still sell it because they are armed with charisma and chutzpah.
While some of the plot twists and actions towards the end might seem tedious and bloated, there’s a lot of fun to be had in watching Khan and his coterie do some unbelievable stunts on earth, sky, water, and everything in between. Abraham also made for a good, nasty and disillusioned villain. He had some of the best lines and he carries it off with aplomb. His fifty shades of smirks and grey needs another movie.
If you have been missing large-scale Bollywood bluster and bravado, then ‘Pathaan’ is a wild romp.
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, John Abraham, Ashutosh Rana, and Dimple Kapadia
Stars: 3.5 out of 5