Pathaan – A Magic Pill For Escapist Entertainment
The film has arrived like thunder to shake off Bollywood fears of extinction
When Bollywood was shaky about the Hindi film industry’s survival after the way Southern escapist fare like RRR and Kantara shook the foundations and meaning of entertainment, Pathaan arrived like thunder and lightning to shake off these fears. It proved with every frame and scene, that Bollywood is here to stay, albeit in a different shape, form and content.
Unlike drawing from ‘fictional history’ like RRR and Kanthara, Pathaan does the opposite. It offers a technically advanced, post-modernist fare which redefines the word ‘entertainment’ as we have learnt to understand it over the years.
The film goes easy on the storyline so you might well step into the theatre, after leaving the intellectual and intelligent part of your brain outside. Because the director and the producer, and the excellent cast have kindly decided to allow your overworked brain to take a rest. You can even go to sleep and keep your eyes, ears and consciousness alert, as you are glued to the edge of your seat. You will stare mesmerised at the scraggly-haired Pathaan with smouldering eyes, often a bloodied face ready to attack and defeat anyone who is a threat to his motherland India.
Sometimes, he ties up his hair in a ponytail so that it does not come in the way of his deadly fights with Jim (John Abraham) who we later discover, is not a deadly spy working for Pakistan. he was originally a part of RAW, and runs a “corporate firm” dealing in a deadly virus that can create and spread smallpox among masses in minutes and in the final analysis, calls himself Raktabeej.
His main enemy, equal to him in strength, skill, and intelligence, can fight him atop running trains, in the sky, on the ground, jumping from mountain peaks till you need to rub your eyes to find out whether you are dreaming or are actually watching a film.
Fredric Jameson, one of the key founders of postmodernity, catalogues its symptoms as “the disappearance of history, the way in which our entire contemporary social system has little by little begun to lose its capacity to retain its own past, has begun to live in a perpetual present and in a perpetual change that obliterates traditions.”
In his two essays on postmodernity, Jameson establishes an analogy between borderline schizophrenia, and postmodern subjectivity (which Jameson characterises by the collapse of temporality, the failure of the ability to locate or fix events historically.)
One review defines Pathaan as a crime thriller directed by Siddharth Anand and the main lead actor Shahrukh Khan. The story screenplay, and dialogues are written by Siddharth Anand alongwith Shridhar Raghavan and Abbas. For me, Pathaan combines, in itself, features of high-powered SFX and CGI commonly used in a science-fiction-adventure. There is a bit of itsy bitsy sexyness oozing out of Deepika Padukone in her see-through costumes, not only in the sizzling song number shot near the sea, but also in her fight scenes and the frequent death-defying action she does with Pathan and Jim.
It adds a touch of seduction and the erotic to her character. She works with the ISI but as it later transpires, is a double agent who double-crosses Pathan. If all ISI women were dressed as titillating as Deepika is in the film, then soon the ISI will be spilling over with young men solely with the desire of wooing them,
But the happy part is that neither can you take your eyes off her while she is sizzling the screen, nor can you label her as being deliberately sexy. Deepika is just like that. The “honeymoon” scene between Deepika and Shahrukh is a steal if ever there was one!
The film begins with the 2019 milestone event of the Govt at the Centre withdrawing Article 370 in Jammu-Kashmir. That has angered the Pakistani General Quadir strongly even though the doctor has given him a lifeline of three years, as he suffers from cancer. He plans an absurd attack on India with the help of Jim, a terrorist.
This is in the past. At the present time, Pathaan, believed dead in Afghanistan, then Africa, returns to India with a mission which he presents to Nandini who is a top officer with RAW. He suggests founding a secret agency with injured but forcibly ‘rested’ agents committed to dedicated service. And they form JOCR (Joint Operation and Covert Research).
Dimple Kapadia fits into the role of Nandini like a glove, both in terms of acting and personality. Asuthosh Rana too does a convincing role as the head of RAW. Salman Khan is stunning in his brief cameo as Tiger.
Everything happens at breathtaking pace with fights on ground level, indoors, outdoors, in the skies, on clifftops, on shaky grounds, on airplanes till you lose track of the story, whatever little of it there is. The sound effects filled with deafening noises of beating, knifing, shooting, throwing people from unimaginable heights.
The killings are loud enough for you to come out of the hall with lessened hearing than you had before you stepped in. The editor had a field day, with the cameras moving from one country to another, from fighter planes to passenger flights, to dilapidated bungalows on hilltops.
You gape at the screen and try to wrack your brains to find out what the hell is happening.
In the end, while everyone is wondering where the hell “Raktabeej” is, Jim says he is the one. According to Hindu mythology, Raktabeej was a demon. Each drop of his blood that touched the ground turned into another Raktabija. Thus, every time he was struck, millions of his duplicates appeared all over the battlefield.
At this point, the Gods were desperate and they then turned to Shiva for help. Shiva, though, was so deep into meditation that he could not be reached. The Gods then turned to Shiva’s consort Parvati for help. The Goddess Parvati immediately set out to battle with the demon, and it was then that she took the form of Kali.
Kali appeared with her eyes blood-shot, dark complexion, gaunt features, hair unbound, and her teeth as sharp as fangs. She rode into the battle on a lion. The demon Raktabija first began to experience fear. Kali then ordered the Gods to attack Raktabija, while she spread her tongue over the battlefield, covering it completely, and preventing even one drop of the demon’s blood from falling.
In doing this, Kali prevented Raktabija from reproducing himself again, and the Gods were then victorious. After her victory over these demons, Kali was so overjoyed that she started the dance of death.
Thankfully, the film’s story skips the story linked to our own Kali. But if Bollywood is desperately trying to destroy the mass adulation of Southern hits like RRR and Kantara, the highly entertaining Pathaan, with a 57-year-old Shahrukh Khan oozing sex in every frame, it has done so.