Director Kabir Khan’s Phantom explores informed domain — Indo-Pakistan relations, with a deep, and not always apparent bhai-bhai streak. This has been his obsession, one approach or another, and has been a turf of Kabul Express, New York, Ek Tha Tiger, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now Phantom.
In pointy contrariety to his sentimental, comic, humanity-above-religions-and-borders Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a box-office blaster starring Salman Khan that expelled usually over a month ago, Phantom is a vigilante and jingoistic film with a bump-‘em-off message. Will a genuine Kabir Khan greatfully mount up?
I have my reservations about vigilante justice, regardless of how estimable a means seems. Phantom is blending from Hussain Zaidi’s book Mumbai Avengers. India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) picks a ashamed ex-Indian Army officer Daniyal Khan (Saif Ali Khan), who has “disappeared” and grabs a possibility to redeem himself by expelling a masterminds of a 26/11 Mumbai bombings of 2008, in that 166 were killed. Otherwise, it seems they are doubtful to get a probity they deserve.
Because when India is attacked, says a RAW agent, “hum sirf cricket khelna rope karte hain.” So RAW has a Mumbai conflict masterminds, including Sajid Mir, David Headley and “Haaris” Saeed separated one by one, on opposite continents — by a singular man, Daniyal Khan. At slightest Bollywood’s wish fulfilling fantasies can be relied on to broach justice, despite around a rather doubtful operative.
Although a story is straightforward, a screenplay by Kabir Khan and Parveez Sheikh is restive as a H2O beetle, and infrequently creates it tough to keep lane of multiple, hardly etched characters, as a movement keeps hurtling between London, Chicago, Beirut, Lahore and Mumbai. Accomplished actors Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Rajesh Tailang are consumed in tiny roles.
The cinematography by Aseem Mishra is efficient if frenzied, while Aarif Sheikh’s modifying is too messy — during dual hours 27 minutes, Phantom struggles to be fascinating — and also lapses into attention-deficit mode. There’s copiousness of prohibited wheels, explosve explosions, appurtenance gun fire, fast-cut modifying and electro song to shelve adult a tension, though it can’t save a film.
The gait picks adult in a second half, when Daniyal closes in on his chase in Pakistan, and RAW and ISI play view contra view around him. The relentless gait also keeps we from seeking too many questions, such as because is Daniyal so simply ashamed for being brave, instead of being given a medal? How come he sails into Pakistan, already meaningful everybody he needs to know? Why make your heroine a Parsi lady in London usually to call her Nawaz (Katrina Kaif?
Saif Ali Khan literally plays Phantom, a masked avenger. In that, he’s wearing a single-expression facade throughout. Kaif kicked distant some-more boundary in Ek Tha Tiger. Here, her “security consultant” purpose is in outcome a Barbie hanger-on, relieved she can pronounce Hindi with a unfamiliar accent. As Amina Bi, a mom of a Pakistani self-murder bomber, Sohaila Kapur shines in a most smaller, though some-more adventurous and noted role. For a film whose solitary bulletin is vigilante justice, a book doesn’t do a film a foster by handing out both a good guys – Daniyal from India and Amina Bi from Pakistan — and a militant masterminds a same fate.
Again, given that a chemistry between a leads is ekdum thanda, a Titanic-style consummate renders a touching impulse rather risible. Ek Tha Tiger was so most some-more fun and cool, with Indian and Pakistani agents who conclude that adore is improved than war, and confirm to tumble off a map.
Remarkably, and to Kabir Khan’s credit, not once does he make terrorism a eremite issue. In fact, he underlines how families of both perpetrators and victims, humour on both sides of a limit — and combine opposite terrorism. In a pleasant, populist post-script, Kabir Khan has Nawaz, whose father used to provide her to tea and pastries during a Taj Mahal Hotel, have a chai along a sea wall outward a hotel.
The film has wandering moments of humour, mostly holding swipes during amicable media: a RAW bosses collect ‘Phantom’ as he has no Facebook page; someone complains that Haaris Saeed has a $10million annuity on his head, nonetheless he roams giveaway and is on Twitter!
Full disclosure: we have to acknowledge that The Forgotten Army, Kabir Khan’s early documentary on Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, was so conspicuous and deeply affecting, that we can pardon him anything he has done subsequently, including Phantom.
And by a way, Kabir, could we greatfully share a tip of how to make those shrill microphones go bust? With a array of festivals watchful to break a eardrums, we would be evermore grateful.
The author is South Asia Consultant to a Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist.