Pathaan: the return of the king
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS.
For long enough, Bollywood had been surviving on "star power." A star is simply an actor who can pull the audience to the theatres based on his reputation, one who can earn that grand opening weekend for the producers and push the film to the 100-crore mark, regardless of the content of the film. For quite some time in the early 2010s, Salman Khan had been the master of doing it.
But then the stars fell. After a few of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan's films failed, the failure of Aamir Khan's Laal Singh Chaddha was considered the nail in the coffin of star power. After his last film Zero had been a disaster, Shah Rukh Khan took a four-year break and returned with his first spy-action film, Pathaan. The film had a lot of boxes to fill, a lot of hearts to win, and a lot of money to make. It was crucial not only as proof of Shah Rukh's invincibility at the box office but also for the survival of the box office itself by bringing the mass back into the theatres.
And Pathaan did a fabulous job at it. The film meets its expectations and acts as a perfect fan service for Shah Rukh's fans. Filled with references to his previous films, the film sets up the creation of a spy universe beautifully, without making it too much of a mess. The story revolves around the titular character Pathaan, a RAW agent, who comes back from hiding to find Rubina Mohsin, an ex-ISI agent played by Deepika Padukone and Jim, an ex-RAW agent and head of criminal organisation Outfit X, played by John Abraham, who's the main antagonist of the film. How Pathaan puts an end to Jim and saves his country is the oversimplified plot of the spy thriller.
The tropes are as typical as it gets. The RAW-ISI affair, agent went rogue, the country's safety at stake and an agent who breaks all rules – Pathaan is conventional in its plot. Although the film relies on Shah Rukh's star power, it isn't the film's sole driving factor.
The antagonist and the female lead are well written for once in a Bollywood film. Jim's back story leads you into being sympathetic towards his character and the no-nonsense personality of John Abraham adds more dimension. Deepika's character is more than just eye candy and plays a crucial role in the first and second acts. The action choreography is brilliant and the plot twists, however predictable, are enjoyable. But it is Shah Rukh's charisma and his screen presence that truly sells Pathaan. He is exquisite to look at on the screen and he looks effortless in his portrayal of a charming secret agent.
However, the VFX completely ruins some of the portions, especially in the climax. Before making a big-budget spy thriller that is going to have CGI-dependent set pieces, it is crucial to ensure that the studio can pull off the VFX shots. Pathaan fails miserably in its CGI-heavy action set pieces and looks like a green screen catastrophe and a colour-grading massacre in most of the shots.
Although Pathaan intends to serve the legend of Shah Rukh Khan, it gives us an entertaining action film in the process. With the rise of OTT and regional films, a star can no longer ensure a blockbuster without having any substance in it. The monumental box office success of Pathaan proves that it is more than a Shah Rukh Khan film. With an actual plot for a change and an extended Salman Khan cameo, Pathaan is a genuinely enjoyable Bollywood flick.
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