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Pathaan - King Khan Kintsugi

Updated: Jan 29

Kintsugi ("golden joinery") is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. As a philosophy, it is an embrace of the flawed or imperfect, and treating breakage and repair as part of the history of an object. Shah Rukh Khan's career in the last few years has been a shattered bowl, with a string of disappointing flops like Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017) and Zero (2018). In the 4 years since Zero, he has been off the grid with zero movies headlined. He's now come roaring back, mending that broken bowl, in his inimitable signature style (sass, sensuality, smirks and smiles) with Pathaan, the fourth film in the YRF Spy Universe (YSU) after Ek Tha Tiger (2012), Tiger Zinda Hai (2017) and War (2019). (The fifth movie Tiger 3 releases later this year.). The Bollywood Badshah has burned the bhakts in a box office bonanza bonfire.

Pathaan starts with a Pakistani general who learns of a terminal cancer diagnosis with the doctor giving him 3 years to live. Instead of spending time with his family or traveling the world or doing something philanthropic like most normal people would in that situation, he decides to wreak vengeance on India as a response to the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. Alternatively, he could have contacted renowned thinkers Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri or Kangana Ranaut and asked for advice on how to resolve that Gordian Knot of a problem. But no. Instead he contacts Jim (John Abraham) of Outfit X, a mercenary terrorist organization. Pathaan (SRK) is put on the case by Nandini (Dimple Kapadia), the head of J.O.C.R (Joint Operations and Covert Research). Between flashbacks, we learn of the shared history of Jim and Pathaan along with their common interest Rubina (Deepika Padukone). Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana) from War is there too along with a seeti maar cameo by another YSU character. The Hitchcockian Macguffin device put into motion by Jim in this case is called Raktbeej. There are several action set pieces throughout, progressively getting more elaborate and outraging the laws of physics, but the action never flags during its 2 hr 26 min duration. There are no detours into unnecessary subplots, songs or soapy sentimentality. The patriotism too never veers into Sunny Deol jingoism territory. The only song during the movie is the phenomenal Besharam Rang with its thumping Latin beat and rousing sensuality of SRK and Deepika burning up the screen. (Mercifully the censors spared the orange bikini - there is hope for humanity after all.) The other song Jhoome Jo Pathaan is in the post credits. Speaking of post credits, there is quite an extended sequence, ending with a hilariously meta referential dialogue set between SRK and the aforementioned YSU character cameo. The characters are talking about their spy counterparts but in actuality the actors are talking about themselves and their long careers.

There are tons of folks who are "Never Shah Rukh"-ers, and in the current dispensation, several paid ones too in the digital and physical troll army who foment manufactured outrage and create boycott hashtags by the dozen every time there is a release by anyone named Khan (SR, Aamir, Kabir) whose first name is not Salman. I have no bone to pick with those who watch a movie and have a genuine dissenting opinion. Any piece of art, including this review, is by definition subjective and each person sees in it something different. The issue is with those who expound and rant without having seen or read it and have no intention of ever doing so. My request to them is to at least put a little effort into their hate.

2022 was not a great year for Hindi cinema. The top 6 movies at the Indian box office had only 1 movie (Brahmastra) originally made in Hindi. The other five were made in Telugu (RRR), Tamil (Vikram and PS-1) and Kannada (KGF 2 and Kantara) and dubbed in Hindi. Pathaan has started 2023 with a big bang and hopefully the rest of the year follows its lead. If that happens, then as the lead hook of Besharam Rang says, "En esta noche, la vida es completa" - 0n this night, life is complete.

January 29, 2023

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