Pathaan: Review. By Samhith Ankam.
EN ESTA NOCHE LA VIDA ES COMPLETA
Saving the collective existence through the individual one. Pathaan isn’t an actioner that ponders; what if I said even a little giddy with the idea of a mutated virus that can decimate a town in a matter of hours. But the stakes slowly escalate to the end of the world, while the twists unravel why it’s all happening — in juxtaposition, desires manage to overlap until everyone’s determination to their mission becomes questioned. Love blossoms, hate prevails, and revenge and betrayal are the currency that governs the Earth.
Yada yada yada, but all of that also means this is allowed to have fun until the last third, especially with the mystery of Raktbeej – the virus – with Soderbergh-styled heists operating on the scale of a Mission Impossible movie while Pathaan and Rooba slowly fall in love every step of the way. Yash Raj Films’ Spy universe is still fresh enough to feel like it’s marching forward, even if that’s just the overlap of all the RAW agents. And that propulsion locks with Pathaan’s content feeling with what’s there right now, creating a whirlwind of being sexy and kicking ass, saving those who are falling almost as like a positive aftermath.
This operates in the realm of pure emotion, so why even compare this to its contemporaries in Hollywood when the ethos is so obviously different? Even to its detriment, Indian cinema in its most commercial form is an ode to the actor on screen – there’s pure belief in the truth that they’re more than actors, but an emotion. A god whose only purpose is to entertain, to let us escape in their big arms since maybe that’s the only way we’ll be saved from all that’s wrong in the world. So it dives into pure iconography – the symbol for Shah Rukh Khan is Shah Rukh Khan, who is also the symbol for keeping on going in life through thick and thin.
The title card, Pathaan, doesn’t even drop until after the first action scene because it wants you to feel the sensation, before processing letters. A shotgun tracked by a camera through the air as it lands in Pathaan’s hands upon which he blasts enemies into the air, or him kicking a magazine after his pistol runs out of bullets with such force that it takes someone out, or him driving a helicopter in a stash house before breaking out through the ceiling like a rocket – Sounds ridiculous to say this all takes place within less than 15 minutes, and that this doesn’t peak given that there are over 2 hours left, but that’s the magic of this thing.
When you’re not winking at the audience but sincerely indulging in the madness on display, it breaks the barrier of how “fun” something can be – the sky is the limit in the creation of action since anything goes as long as it makes emotional sense. Getting hit, losing, and letting situations run down to the last possible second. None of this is easy, and it always builds up with constant failures to morph the set-piece into insanity – it feels so primal in escalation.
Not that it’s wholly absolved of it, but this could’ve lost itself to the messy politics of being set against the territorial fight for Kashmir between India and Pakistan. But there’s a rejection of the larger forces here. Allegiances that character give to shift constantly, rendering patriotism a buzzword used by governments to exploit – saving lives and having no one save you in return. Early on, this cuts into a flashback of Jim, the film’s antagonist, an Indian patriot who terrorists capture along with his family after he rescues hostages. The government decides that they won’t give in to their demands for money for release, and Jim’s pregnant wife is shot. A family, present and future, lost in a second – the sound of the gunshot coupled with Jim screaming is so striking that it echoes through the rest of the movie.
Usually, a villain’s motives, no matter how understandable, get less and less important as the death toll gets more and more important. But, in action set-pieces and plot, those within these systems are the subject of destruction here until the very end, not the ordinary people on the ground working their 9 to 5s. Jim is a monster created from within, abusing all that they’ve abused, so the Jai Hind (“Hail India”) resolution feels ironic – there’s not only so much pent-up distrust in here but also nothing solved, only a retreat back to square one, that it eats the propaganda from the inside out. More so in common with how Michael Mann depicts detective work as a neverending storm in Miami Vice where the only moments of warmth are in moments of love, but only here it’s as fun as a Michael Bay movie.
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