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Pathaan film review: Shah Rukh Khan and Bollywood return with a patriotic spy thriller

Shah Rukh Khan

For a long time, Hindi films have been creating ‘desi’ equivalents of the Bond-Bourne franchise. Tiger has been “Zinda” in a fast-paced double feature, Agent Vinod has done his part, BellBottom has flexed and flared, but it’s Shah Rukh Khan in “Pathaan” who has the spy movie laced with heavy doses of patriotism bouncing off the screen, acing the action avatar with the floppy hair, glinting aviator sunglasses, eight packs (or is it twelve?) look.

That’s because it finally has what an action movie needs: nonstop action, glamorous leads, and the guy who can save the world, one high-octane set piece and an emo line at a time.

Bonus: the very svelte Deepika Padukone, who matches SRK stride for stride, giving Katrina Kaif a run for her money in Tiger 2. There’s also Dimple Kapadia, who reprises her role as the foxy Moneypenny in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’. And the main antagonist, played by John Abraham, who makes the most of his dialogue.

A slew of spies, sardonic RAW chiefs (Ashutosh Rana), evil ISI generals, and gun-toting terrorists inhabit global hotspots are all part of the plot. Pakistan has renewed its interest in Kashmir (it will never learn, will it). Jim (John Abraham), a native of India, has gone rogue. Rubina (Deepika Padukone), a gorgeous ISI agent, looks equally at home in a bikini as she does in skin-tight spandex. In top-secret labs, a deadly virus far more dangerous than Covid 19 is being developed. Desh-ke-dushman are crawling all over the place, posing a clear and present danger. But don’t worry, India’s best and bravest, Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan), is on the way.

The difficulty of completing a two-and-a-half hour film is visible in the places where you stifle a yawn (yes, it can happen even when everything is galloping along at break-neck speed). Pathaan and Jim face off in the air (many helicopters were damaged in the making of this film), skimming over ice floes and under icy water, chasing each other down twisty roads. There is some roll-your-eyes silliness, which is typical for this type of film. Furthermore, the third person mention of ‘Pathaan’ becomes tiresome (kitni baar bologe, yaar). Believe us, we got it right the first time.

But the slack is quickly tightened: an entire train is commandeered for a special starring Pathaan and a keffiyeh-wearing spy whose trademark moves had the audience roaring. Then there’s the song that sparked outrage weeks before it was released in theatres. There’s nothing in it that we haven’t seen before (YRF songs on beaches should be a separate Bollywood sub-genre), but Pathaan and Rubina swaying and narrowing their eyes at each other on a Spanish beach is more of a potato than a potato. But let me reassure those who are concerned: nothing besharam happens, even when there is nothing between them but a gun. The film arrives at a time when Bollywood and SRK are under attack. ‘Pathaan’ is that sateek jawaab of this beleaguered pathaan, who manages multiple feats in his comeback after a clutch of medium-bad to terrible films: gives it those ones to the #BoycottBollywood brigade, pulls off the dishy-and-dishevelled look rippling those abs, gives us a laugh-out-loud moment (I won’t ruin it, but it involves.

READ: Deepika Padukone brandishes a Gatling gun in a jaw-dropping sequence in Pathaan, and Siddharth Anand describes her as a “bonafide action superstar”