Reading the source material for Kabir Khan’s films would be a fascinating exercise. They get me thinking about the different possibilities, and what could have come of them, had the director stuck to making exactly what he wanted. Take Phantom (based on the book Mumbai Avengers , by Hussain Zaidi) for instance. The film gives birth to an Indian Jason Bourne, who gets sent on a secret mission to settle scores with the people behind the 26/11 attacks. The film lives out the fantasy of most Indians in the wake of all the helplessness felt during those few weeks in November. It’s an idea any Indian would relate to. While watching Phantom, I kept thinking of how exciting it would have been had the source material been made into a video game (which the film plays out like anyway). In the film, the successful completion of every mission, so to speak, leads the protagonist to a new country (he starts in the U.K., goes to the U.S., and from there to Beirut, Syria and Pakistan). Every bad guy he encounters leads to a bigger, meaner villain, culminating in a confrontation with the biggest boss of them all. There’s even a bonus level after everything is done when our ‘Player 1’ — Daniyal Khan (Saif Ali Khan, playing a disgraced Indian Army Officer) — has to be extracted from a hostile country. Phantom would have made a great game, deserving of the two sick leaves one would have needed to complete it.
But the movie, unfortunately, is a watered-down version of the idea. It’s as though the game were being played in ‘easy’ mode by actors who’re only marginally better in emoting than CGI versions. There’s even a couple of cheat codes thrown in for Daniyal in the form of information leading to these bad guys.
You also get a hot sidekick in Nawaz (an odd name for Katrina Kaif), who’s expected to help Daniyal along the way (even a bit of fashion advice just before he goes off on a deadly mission). There are scenes between the two exchanging their life stories that make for the film’s funniest moments. Daniyal’s flashback, about how he came to be a disgrace to the Indian Army, comes across as the clumsiest thing an army guy could do. For her part, Nawaz explains why she has such an emotional bond with Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel, when she reminisces a lost childhood. It’s a scene in which you can almost hear an assistant director prompting her reactions: “Madam, nostalgic expression. Now, sad expression. Madam, cry now madam.”
There’s even a soppy subplot involving an aged Pakistani nurse supporting Daniyal in one of his plans, only so she can kill those responsible for recruiting her son on a suicide mission. The film, without these overtly sentimental digressions, would have at least been a harmless fun thriller, mainly because of how intriguing it is to see that the film has based its bad guys on real terrorists like David Headley, Lakhvi, Sajid Mir and Hafiz Saeed.
But based on how the film actually is, it’s safe to say that the idea of an Indian Jason Bourne continues to be a phantom.
div style="font-size: 130%;line-height: 145%;background-color: #FEF3E9;border-bottom:5px #F6851F solid;width: 270px; float: left; padding: 5px 10px; margin-right:10px; font-style:normal;"> Genre: Spy thriller Director: Kabir Khan Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Zeishan Ayyub, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Sohaila Kapur Storyline: A disgraced Army officer enters into a one-man mission to avenge the 26/11 attack