The last Bollywood outing to Pakistan, crafted by Kabir Khan, involved a naïve lover of Hanuman, who was a little thick between the ears but had a lot of heart. Parts of ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ were cheerfully subversive, cheeky, and fresh and helped us sail through the film.
The director is back with another fairy-tale of an Indian conquering the world (read the war-torn areas of the Middle East which are basically used as conduits to where the film wants to get; yes, Pakistan again) and this time around there is, disappointingly, no crackle, only fizz.
Not only is the telling of ‘Phantom’ tepid, the story itself seems to have been cobbled together from the adventures of Messrs Bond and Bourne and and several other worthies on the same much-trodden beat. We keep waiting for Daniyal Khan, played by Saif Ali Khan, to rev up the proceedings as he and his pretty fellow-traveller Nawaz Mistry (Katrina Kaif) shoot and scoot through gun-and-cordite filled streets of Beirut and Syria via Chicago, London and Mumbai. In vain.
‘*S–*, let’s do this fast’, says Ms Kaif at one point. And we find ourselves in whole-hearted agreement. Because what’s a thriller for if it gives us time to breath? But the film feels sluggish as it goes about trying to paper over the jerky plot which seems to have been crafted by delusional hawks: those dastardly terrorists (actors playing David Headley and Haafiz err ‘Harris’ Saeed make an appearance) had killed hundreds of innocents in Mumbai, so lets just wade into that hostile neighbouring country, where nestle weapons-heavy Laskhar operatives, and blow ‘em into smithereens.
That’s what Daniyal, former Indian soldier out to regain lost honour, is set up for. And in the beginning there seems to be a faint hope that the Khans, director and star, will be able to pull off a rollicking let’s-see-the- global- hot-spots- while- we- hunt down the bad guys. But that is soon dissipated when our hero is joined by our heroine, who adopts an all-knowing smirk on the spot, and whose air-brushed-ness remains intact whether she is jumping into open jeeps or bobbing in the ocean .
From here on, it is hard to take ‘Phantom’ seriously. It is also hard to believe that a director who seemed to have cracked the flight-of-fancy-rooted-in-reality streak that all such films need to have (I enjoyed most of ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ in which the beauteous Kaif is used much better and Salman the Man kicks butt), will stuff his latest with characters who spout worn jingoistic dialogue. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s overtly blood-thirsty Indian intelligence agent being made to pump his fist at Daniyal’s killing games is both questionable and troubling.
And that leaves us with Saif, clearly floundering after his past few duds, including ‘Agent Vinod’, which had him traverse some of the same territory. Maybe he can still stave off our enemies and save us. But it’s not happening in this film. No siree.
Star Cast of Phantom: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Sabyasachi Chakraberty
Director : Kabir Khan