Pathaan review: Story and substance vacate the centre stage for style and stars

"Pathaan" may probably be the first big-ticket film to hit the mark this year, but it is almost definitely a return to stardom for SRK.

ByArkadev Ghoshal

Published:Jan 25, 2023

A poster for Pathaan. (Supplied)

Pathaan (Hindi)

  • Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone, Ashutosh Rana, Dimple Kapadia, Gautam Rode, Gavie Chahal, Shaji Choudhary, and Salman Khan (cameo)
  • Director: Siddharth Anand
  • Producer: Aditya Chopra
  • Music: Vishal and Sheykhar, Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara
  • Runtime: 2 hours 26 minutes

The whistles and wisecracks are back in the theatre, and the “content is king” mantra is taking a hit, thanks to Pathaan.

This 2-hour-26-minute Siddharth Anand directorial feels longer than that, as the core themes take a backstage while the stars hog the limelight with style.

Pathaan is a blockbuster along the lines of Anand’s War. Except it is a tad more entertaining when it comes to the execution.

However, that veil of entertainment melts away under even a mild gaze of scrutiny: Plot holes appear, people’s actions do not make sense, and the surprises — maybe all but one of them — are visible a mile away!

Even more atrocious are the dialogues, and sequences where the action is taking place just for action’s sake.

Despite all this, Pathaan works because of the screen presence of the stars, and little else.

The story

To call Pathaan a spy thriller would be an insult to espionage. Then again, the same can be said of all the James Bond films. After all, no one can be considered a good spy if they telegraph their presence and actions.

But, back to Pathaan and the eponymous character at the centre of it. While his real name is tactfully never revealed, we learn that he was once a part of the Indian Army, but was laid low by an accident that eventually begot him the name Pathaan.

He teams up with an ISI agent named Rubina Mohsin alias Rubai (Deepika Padukone) to ostensibly foil the plans of a former RAW agent named Jim (John Abraham), who went rogue after pirates killed his pregnant wife.

Some twists and turns ensue, leading us to a predictable showdown involving a bioweapon.

The ups

Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Pathaan. (Supplied)

Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Pathaan. (Supplied)

Pathaan has something going for it that the likes of last year’s Shamshera did not: A tighter script that does not let the attention wander easily.

All the top-billed actors — from Padukone to Abraham to Shah Rukh Khan himself — made their screen presence felt. SRK himself turned up the charm offensive to 11.

Even as SRK is at his masala best and Padukone gets some meat to her role, John Abraham seems to have added more emotion to his dialogue delivery.

The secondary characters, for which the likes of Dimple Kapadia and Ashutosh Rana are roped in, feel fleshed out.

Oh, and since this is the YRF SpyVerse, something that is announced in the opening credits, expect a cameo from one of the lead characters from the other recent spy films from Yash Raj Films.

That part left me grinning. But one can spot that cameo coming from so far that the surprise element is all but lost.

On the music front, the lack of songs within the film is refreshing. Besharam Rang is the only one that finds a place between the opening and closing credits. Jhoome Jo Pathan comes on at the end.

Jim’s Theme may seem a little loud and repetitive because it is played whenever the character is on screen, but Pathaan’s Theme seems underused despite being a banger.

The cinematography makes good use of the global locations — from Spain to Russia to France and even Afghanistan.

And the sly, chuckle-inducing easter eggs sprinkled throughout add to the entertainment factor without diluting the pace.

The downs

Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Pathaan. (Supplied)

Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Pathaan. (Supplied)

A particular grouse of mine was the action, which seemed pointless at times. The jarring, staccato-like action shots left me hankering for the steady shots that were a mainstay of RRR.

And while we are on the topic of action, the sequences seem to be well-choreographed, but most of them feel hollow in the absence of a goal. Is the antagonist escaping, or is he trying to reach a specific place? What exactly are the protagonists aiming to do: Capture the baddie, save the hostages, or retrieve stolen property?

The answers are not immediately clear, and that makes several of the action set pieces seem more gratuitous rather than a tool to advance the story.

However, the two biggest offenders are the dialogues and the exposition.

Abbas Tyrewalla, who wrote some crackling dialogues for films like Munnabhai MBBS, seems to have delivered some incredibly pedestrian work with most of the dialogues, barring the occasional wit or repartee.

Meanwhile, Shridhar Raghavan — who has writing and screenplay credits for films like Yennai Arindhaal and Bluffmaster — ruins quite a bit of the storytelling process with his use of exposition rather than dialogue or visuals.

Overall verdict

Pathaan may probably be the first of the big-ticket films to hit the entertainment mark this year, but it is almost definitely a return to stardom for Shah Rukh Khan.

What’s more, the mid-credits scenes — yes, this film has two — promise more adventures from Pathaan’s team, and also drop hints of a total of five individuals in the SpyVerse.

Salman Khan’s Tiger and Hrithik Roshan’s Kabir are already in it. With SRK’s Pathaan in the mix, the anticipation is high from who else may be roped in.

But back to Pathaan: This is a one-time watch, despite the entertainment. A second watch is a distant possibility.

Fans of the stars may disagree, but if they go for multiple screenings, they would be doing it just for their favourite actors, and little else.