Phantom: agent provocateur

A still from the movie.  

The American strike in Abbottabad to eliminate Osama Bin Laden has given Bollywood writers and directors the licence to kill. This week it is the turn of Kabir Khan who has just delivered the message of peace with Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Here he follows the concept of an eye for an eye in the name of justice to avenge the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Once upon a time the justice meted out to villains in our films was described as poetic, here it is rather prosaic.

Based on Hussain Zaidi’s “Mumbai Avengers”, the film suffers from the same flaws as the novel. Zaidi’s first attempt at fiction has a strong base of facts but when he enters in the fictional space he fumbles. Similarly, Kabir fires plenty of blank shots before finding the target audience. It is neither in the gritty space of Baby nor does it try to be a spy entertainer like Ek Tha Tiger. Phantom moves somewhere in between and takes a long time to find its mojo.

The problem lies with the writing and the lead players. Perhaps, Kabir thought of the film when a surgical strike in Pakistan was a pipe dream even in Bollywood. After Agent Vinod, D Day and Baby, we know the format. Take the audience to global hot spots of terror, eliminate some sidekicks and in the second half land in Pakistan, try to draw a line between religion and terror and then pump in the bullets. Of course the hero or his boss has to be a Muslim to balance the equations. Perhaps India’s RAW chief in the film (Sabyasachi Chakrabarty) is not aware of all this format. So when one of his boys (Zeishan Ayyub) suggests this tried and trusted formula he looks unnecessarily surprised.

Genre: Spy thriller
Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Zeishan Ayyub, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Sohaila Kapur
They pick Daniyal Khan (Saif Ali Khan), an ex-army man who gets into the business to restore his lost pride. He is joined by a mysterious character called Nawaz (Katrina Kaif), who helps him tie the nuts and bolts of the adventure to reach Haris Saeed. You don’t need to Google to check on whom the character is based.

The politics of the film is baffling. It provokes but then settles for television debate kind of solutions. Using names closer to the characters reportedly involved in Mumbai attacks does give it realistic layer but that’s about it. To say that when a few misguided youth can wreck havoc in the country why our trained soldiers can’t can do it in Pakistan doesn’t pass muster. Similarly, Nawaz’s oscillation between her spying and killing for her country and at the same time working for a global NGO which works for the victims of terrorism is questionable. It is a simplistic way to look at the problem and can do more harm than good.

On the surface the way Kabir and his writers build up the narrative is dull and tedious and with no humour to spice up the mood, the spy games fail to spur the imagination. I laughed only when Katrina was introduced as Nawaz. Unfortunately, the name fails to rub on her and she remains as detached from the character as she has been all these years. Saif seems to think that he is doing the sequel of Agent Vinod with a more simplistic script and less budget for costumes.

At one point the politician, who surprisingly remains a cardboard figure here, suggests that such ideas work for those who decide geopolitical issues on Facebook posts. He is right!

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 2:40:04 AM |

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