Many have not seen Pathaan, I have. I have a huge tolerance towards stupid movies and I love to watch all sort of movies. What has bothered me most about Pathaan is that in terms of content and characterisation, it is absolutely shoddy, much worse than much lampooned RaOne AND there is no review which openly tells you about it.
Most reviewers have reviewed the movie like a teenager, gushing over VFX generated body of ShahRukh Khan. This reminds me of my schoolmates bunking classes to watch tomato-sauce-laced movies of Ramsey brothers, gushing over semi-nude voluptuous actresses in the late 80s. Only difference being that those were school kids in class XII, with raging hormones and a stupefied intellect when a world around them was fast changing. Here we have middle-aged professional movie reviewers guiding people to their way in or out of Movie theatres. Their primary argument in favour of the movie is nothing but beefed up Shahrukh Khan and the gap between his earlier movie and this one.
Another argument is to guilt-trip audience into the theatres on two grounds- one, Shahrukh Khan has made this movie at the age of 57 after a gap of six years, another is that there is a lot of hard work of technicians etc behind this venture. I find both the arguments misplaced. If I suffer with a writer’s block and publish my next book after a gap of five years; it does not befalls on the conscience of the readers to need my book merely on the account of the long gap if the book turned out to be lame, shoddy and uninteresting.
Much has been made about how this movie is a make-or-break for Shahrukh’s fortunes and if the movie fails, he will be a broken man. Men in slums of Jamia Nagar and Jahaangirpuri are nudged to step out and watch the movie to support the beleaguered Superstar, who even if the movie turned out dud and makes zero profit will be watching the sunsets from his posh, grotesquely rich bungalow in Bandra. In all the riches, he has accumulated through the largely secular affections of a nation which loved him, the success and failure of this movie will be but a blip. SRK is a smart businessman and has multiple business ventures to support him in a a bad spell. On the point of technicians and other people who worked on the movie, it is no less than the manpower behind a successful Kantara or a failed Prithviraj.
We cannot be expected to be more serious about the movie than Shahrukh Khan himself has been about it. When you do not spend any thoughts about the story, the lyrics, the music, not to mention public sensibilities and sympathies- you cannot except the public to accept it merely out of affection or gratitude.
The movie has been promoted by the opposition political parties in a brazen fashion as an answer to the Hindutva- Brigade (opposition would call it Hindutva thugs). Polarisation in this nation helps not only politics, but also the movies. While it is a general trend to blame Hindus to be communally polarised, the fact is that Hindus have always questioned the politicians about roads, schools, electricity, apart from Ram Mandir.
On the other side, Amanatullah Khan of Shaheen Bagh or Owaisi of Hyderabad will survive merely on the fake ‘Islam is in Danger’ slogan, whether or not there is drinking water in his constituency, or power cables hang dangerously, gutters are overflowing and schools are primitive. Much maligned Hindu fanatic will not watch a Prithviraj if the story does not hold him, songs are shoddy and acting is poor. For the other community, they have been charged to make the movie successful even when it nibbles at their sensibilities, numbs their sensitivities. That said, I have found rows and rows of seats empty on day -2 of the movie in the NCR. In Pathaan, after selling politics in the name of faith has reached a new depth with selling art in the name of faith.
Coming to the meat and substance of the movie, the title and the theme of the movie is meant to glorify a foreign race, a race originating from North-West Frontier Province, or Pakistan-Afghanistan border. That is not new, it has been a running theme from Kabuliwala of Tagore to Sherkhan of Zanjeer. Indians have always accepted it, and equated it with the kind persona of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan who opposed partition on religious lines and told Gandhi after the creation of Pakistan- You have thrown us to the wolves. But that was before Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan, wiped off minorities from there and Pakistan reduced its minorities to a notional presence. To expect India to be as affectionate towards the Pathaans in modern world speaks only about megalomanic, individualistic outlook of the makers of the movie. The makers have not made the movie because they understood and followed the masses, rather they made the movie to teach the masses what to think and how to feel about things.
Whitewashing Terror Groups
The story of the movie is about an injured Indian Army officer, who initially it appeared, the makers wanted to turn into some kind of Robocop with Rahul and Raj’s charm, but then they decided to turn him into a bulked up human being. The VFX used to do so is shoddy, as they try to make his chiselled body shine up in the Sun, something similar to the Sylvester Stallone in Rambo -3 at the Tibetan Monastery (remember the entry scene of the movie). Only thing, Stallone’s physique looks much real than SRK’s body shining in a Sphagetti top in Pathan. The Army man, a Colonel, who runs the newly created outfit under Dimple, is a routine guy. Most men, even of SRK’s freshly created troop who are sent out to the most dangerous places aren’t trained in physical combat (we learn it in the climax when Amol had to be rescued by the brave ISI agent, played by Deepika).
In the West, they have made movies and series like The Looming Towers or The Caliphate, and even in India, we had honest movies like Black Friday or an Uri or The Kashmir Files made earlier. There are enough facts rolling around which can be picked up to make a fast-paced thriller, provided the intention is to titillate and entertain. From the very beginning, the premise and object of Pathaan looks suspect as they claim all the terror acts of proclaimed terror organisations of Islamist leanings like Daesh and Book Haram were not committed by them, rather by some mercenary, Professional Terror Organisation, devoid of any ideology of religious supremacy. The poor ISIS and Boko Haram were falsely implicated. What was the purpose of these organisations, sell flowers online or offer personality development course from celebrity Ted talk speakers- the makers do not tell us. Shahrukh has taken the victim-card to justify terror narrative to another level with this exoneration of globally recognised terror organisations.
The acts of global terror for which global terrorist organisations have been blamed internationally resulting in action to an extent of bombing of Syria and Afghanistan to rubbles is actually committed by a disgruntled Indian Army Officer and ex-RAW officer, Jim. A military officer going rogue is not a first-time ever plot. In much acclaimed movie, The Rock starring Sean Connery too we had a US Military commander gone rogue. But there is one difference, at no point of the movie did we see the movies making hero out of the Russians, traditional American antagonists. In Pathaan, Pakistan spy agency ISI is shown as a highly moral organisation conscious of humanitarian role it can play. As per Deepika who plays an ISI operative and love interest of Pathaan, it is only few extremists of ISI who work against India in specific and humanity as a whole and they have grained traction only because India amended Article 370 which gave special rights outside constitutional boundaries to Kashmir because it was a Muslim majority state. Since this is a non-serious movie, let us not get into a serious discussion on Kashmir and Article 370. One the very basic level, the movie contends that before Article 370 was amended, ISI was a part of Mother Teresa charity organisation supporting education of girl Children and Malala ran away from Pakistan because the syllabus was very tough. Deepika is our Matahari from a very progressive Pakistan who loves to dress-up like Urofi Javed, and tempts our sharp and professional SRK into one stupidity after another until she obtains two Orbs containing Small-pox virus.
Jim, the ex-RAW and ex-Indian Army officer, is head of a global terror organisation who is either short on funds or is Gandhian in his approach towards terror work as he loves to do everything himself. So when it comes to kidnapping an Indian scientist (of course, who but an Indian sci entist, the effete Hindu Baniya will create a virus to endanger humanity, just to save his life), he himself descends on the streets and kidnaps the famous scientist from a convoy of one car. Hanging at the Helicopters, whose fan could cut the cables and which he is able to pull by sheer muscle power to tie the two choppers to a bus. There is a thin line dividing unbelievable action from stupid stunt. This movie breaches that line very often believing that appreciating this movie is a noble endeavour and one will ignore these absurdities in the larger interests of human race. Many did, because they had to answer the threat mongers and hate mongers calling for the boycott of the movie.
The scientist is kidnapped in a ludicrous attempt by a self-reliant chief of terror organisation (gone are the days of Shakaal sitting back and coordinating such missions from the safety of his island) and Pathaan is back in his office with his team of three-four people, which is only hope for India with world’s largest Army and a significant number of people in its covert-operation bodies. He is then lured by a Bikini-clad operative from Islamic republic of Pakistan to Spain. The shores there gives SRK and Deepika an opportunity to put their bodies, graphically-created or otherwise to a good show and those who swayed to the moves of Huma Khan and Silk Smitha when young, now, older, respectable, leer at these two stars, and exclaim in their movie reviews- Jai ho, Pathaan.
Pathaan is fooled into procuring the two orbs kept in a safety locker, under the able supervision of a tharki terrorist and an old woman, Karen. Deepika ditches SRK and runs away with the Orbs. Our hero is captured by evil Russians, who, do not like traditional ways of killing the spies by shooting or poisoning, decided to explore a new way by putting Pathaan in a train with dangerous thugs who get easily beaten up by the Pathan, briefly supported by Salman. Salman plays tiger, another Indian operative from another series of movies, but then his mandate is limited to rescuing Shahrukh and giving him some painkillers. A disciplined force, one operative does not steps into another operative’s mission even when the world is at an arm’s length from danger. The movie then turns into something like a bond movie as the scene moves to snow-clad mountains. And then it swiftly moves into an Ironman kind of set up with flying actors, missile and caves of Afghanistan. The Pathans from Pak-Afghan border, the same place where Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) a terror organisation finds its origin, much like their humanitarian counterparts in ISI, rise to the occasion, to save humanity under threat of a rogue RAW agent. Together they saw the world, by switching off the detonator of virus, which John Abraham, the villain who claims to be a ‘lover’ of Bharat Mata, is killed by SRK who is the son of Bharat Mata. By the time this happens, your intellect is dead, your mind is numb to even comprehend if there is some deep message hidden in the two definitions of India as demonstrated by the two protagonists.
The dialogues are commonplace, the wit is pathetic, the story is missing. The shifting background is touted as an evidence of movie being fast paced, it is not. A fast paced movie can remain fast-paced even in a room (remember A Few Good Men again with an Army chief as villain). The music does not lingers on your minds even a moment after the scene changes, the lyrics are not memorable. It is totally a shoddy movie, made with little heart into it and tries to exploit political polarisation to seek an undeserving success. The movie reeks of the elite looking-down at the mass mindset, across community and is an insult to the intellect and emotions of the people who spend a great part of their earnings to seek some entertainment. The movie is either a lazy effort or is funded by those who wanted to carry a skewed narrative.
Either way, this is not an honest movie of Shahrukh like say a Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Naan, Bazigar, Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jaayenge, Dil Se or Swadesh. This is not a movie that SRK will be proud of. He may make money out of it, as many reports talk of full house advance bookings, fictional or otherwise. Maybe, he has paid tribute to his tribal origins and his ancestral past with the movie and abandoned his present and his future in the process. It is not that older actors cannot act as action heroes. We have had the Taken series a testimony to an older actor, playing his age and still acting as an action hero. Maybe SRK finds such a space and enchants us in another movie without trying to guilt trip us into watching his lousily created, agenda-heavy movie. Even when Amitabh came with Indrajit and Jadugar as his comeback movies, they were rejected by the people. It had nothing to do with people’s love for Amitabh or their commitment to constitution of Baba Saheb (or is it Rajendra Prasad’s). We are not in a Germany where all have to hail Hitler’s paintings for political appropriateness.
(Saket Suryesh, an author and columnist, is a popular presence on social media for his penetrating views, often disarming. A few of his books include “गंजहोंकीगोष्ठी”, “The Revolutionary Bismil” and “हिंदीकथासंग्रह – “एकस्वर, सहस्त्रप्रतिध्वनियाँ”)