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Pathaan movie review: Welcome back, Shah Rukh Khan

Pathaan movie review: Welcome back, Shah Rukh Khan

Pathaan movie review: Welcome back, Shah Rukh Khan
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By Sneha Bengani  Jan 25, 2023 7:30:13 PM IST (Updated)

Pathaan movie review: Directed by Siddharth Anand, Pathaan stars Shah Rukh Khan, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone, Dimple Kapadia, and Ashutosh Rana in pivotal roles. It’s playing at a theater near you.

Watching Pathaan is a lot like listening to the wonderful Shilpa Rao sing inane lyrics — “Mujh me nayi baat hai, nayi aadaton ke saath hai. Hai jo sahi wo karna nahi, galat hone ki yahi toh shuruvaat hai.” Much like its blockbuster track Besharam Rang, the film is a heady concoction of unoriginal, formulaic storytelling and superstardom that’s too afraid to go beyond surface or skin.

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The newest addition to Yash Raj Films’ expanding spy verse, Pathaan follows the adventures of its eponymous hero (Shah Rukh Khan), an aging, orphaned RAW agent, who, despite having suffered too many injuries at work, is still keen on serving his country and its people. Khan looks the part—chiseled, long-haired, hooded eyes, characteristic wry smile. He even acts it, giving Pathaan the comfortable swag that is a must for films that rely so heavily on star power, surround sound, and big-screen spectacle.
Pathaan is on the hunt for Jim (John Abraham), a former RAW soldier gone bad after being let down by the Indian government at a crucial, vulnerable moment. His relentless quest takes him all over the world—eight countries, including Russia, Spain, France, and Afghanistan. Along the way, he meets Rubina Khan (Deepika Padukone), a svelte, sexy ISI agent who is on a covert mission herself. Abraham, Padukone, and the diverse, scenic geographic locations make Pathaan a visual feast; it’s a delicious watch.
Dimple Kapadia and Ashutosh Rana appear in supporting roles as Pathaan’s bosses. Both of them are solid, especially Kapadia. She’s sharp and graceful, commanding, yet restrained. It’s a tragedy that we don’t get to see her in films more often. Finally, there’s Salman Khan saving the day as Tiger (from YRF’s Tiger film franchise). He makes a heartwarming cameo during a sprawling action sequence on a moving train. Director Siddharth Anand milks it as best as he can—two of the country’s biggest superstars fighting baddies shoulder to shoulder in slow motion to defend our revered Bharat Mata. In the current era of hyper-nationalism, this is what it takes to get hordes into theatres.
There’s nothing new or original about Pathaan. It follows the all-too-familiar beats of an action blockbuster. However, it is surprisingly self-aware. For instance, during his cameo, Tiger gives an overbeaten Pathaan a painkiller and asks him to take a breather as he handles the rogues raining bullets at them. Then there is another scene towards the end featuring the two of them in which they banter about growing older and retiring. But unwilling to give up the centre stage just yet, they (unsurprisingly) decide to plod on.
The film also concerns itself with several pressing socio-political issues. It uses the Indian government’s abolition of Article 370 and the threat of a contagious virus as key plot points. Moreover, by making a Muslim hero play a selfless Muslim soldier, the film bats for religious tolerance and secularism. But Pathaan keeps a cautious, comfortable distance from it all, never delving into any of it. It strictly uses each of these as plot points— purely for structure, nothing more. But they do drive the narrative and don’t feel like a forced afterthought the way the anti-climactic ending of Asmaan Bhardwaj’s recent film Kuttey did.
What does feel forced is the film’s attempt at humour and romance. Most of the jokes either don’t land or are plain silly. As for the love story, since Pathaan is SRK and Padukone’s fourth film together, they have an easy, organic chemistry. But the film doesn’t give it enough room to take root or sparkle.
Aarif Sheikh’s editing is sloppy and distracting. Scenes that should have been allowed to linger for a moment or two are cut abruptly; it throws you off as a viewer. Also, at 146 minutes, Pathaan feels at least 15 minutes too long. Vishal-Shekhar’s compositions Besharam Rang and Jhoome Jo Pathaan are already topping the charts but the film’s score by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara is awful. It is so jarring and out of sync with what’s going on that the result is the opposite of immersive.
So, should you watch Pathaan? Let’s just say that it doesn’t involve any key characters using cosmetic surgery to change their face (remember War?). Although it makes Padukone’s character flirt with every man she can, it also gives her a few solid action scenes. Additionally, Pathaan marks SRK’s return to cinema after over four years. Then there’s its spectacular, big-budget mounting. Finally, the allure of John Abraham and Salman Khan. Pick your reason. Pathaan gives you plenty.
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