Directed by Siddharth Anand | Written by Anand, Shridhar Raghavan, and Abbas Tyrewala | 146 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Amazon Prime
I think it’s fair to say the cross-cultural popularity of 2022 Oscar-winning Indian historical action and fantasy movie RRR has brought more attention to action cinema from Bollywood. Shah Rukh Khan is a big star in the firmament, and he’s got an action film in cinemas now, Jawan. I just caught up with this one from earlier this year, Pathaan, now available on Prime.
Khan is Pathaan, a nickname suggesting he’s from Afghanistan. He’s actually only an honorary member of said community, having saved a village in the region from an American missile. (The politics here are more than a little confusing.) More important is he’s super-tough and super-cool, and when he gets into fights a wind machine blows his impressive hair around like he’s on the cover of a romance novel.
If you aren’t familiar with Indian epics, action or otherwise, it’s good to be prepared that the cliches of Hollywood are frequently over-torqued here, but maybe consider that in spirit Pathaan and its ilk are actually similar to the Fast & Furious franchise, though with thankfully a whole lot less moaning about “family.”
With a lot of these movies you get a dichotomy between the hero and the antagonist, a feeling that they’re two sides of the same coin. In this case, Kahn’s Pathaan is up against John Abraham’s rogue agent, simply known as… Jim. Like Pathaan he’s a hunky, tattooed, and chiseled dude, his heart irrevocably broken when his pregnant wife was murdered and he blames, well, pretty much everyone. He has catastrophic geopolitical ambitions and a dastardly, secret plan with multiple contingencies.
This is usually when I try to describe the plot, but I’ll spare you the details in Pathaan‘s case. The plot doesn’t really matter — there’s a dangerous thing that Jim wants, and if he gets his hands on it people will suffer.
Also on the scene is another agent, Rubai (Deepika Padukone), who might be a double agent or a triple agent. Or maybe her loyalty is less to a nation or an ethos and more to her heart. Aww. One of the highlights of the film is when it pauses early on for a musical number between Rubai and Pathaan, a duet that looks like a perfume ad.
Pathaan is ridiculous and largely entertaining, especially in the first half or so of the film — action sequences in the streets of Dubai, in Spain, and in and, naturally, on a train are utter bonkers, leaning into the perfect posing, the undeniable camp, the glistening hair, and the melodrama.
Whether or not you buy into the film as a whole depends on your patience for more, much more, of the same over a protracted running time.
Late in the second hour we get to a motorcycle chase down a snowy alpine hill and onto an icy lake — none of which looks like it was shot outside a studio — and a scene where certain key players have to kill themselves before they’re overcome by a deadly virus, but by then I decided I’d spent enough of my attention on this goofy nonsense. When the finale arrives, as epic and incredibly fake-looking as much of the rest of it, I struggled to care about the fates of Rubai, Jim, or even Pathaan.
No judgement if you want to spend your rupees on this — I was fine with it, but only to a point. My hope is if these movies keep coming they’ll at least get a little shorter.