Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Sohaila Kapur and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
There was much hue-and-cry about the overdose of jingoism in Katrina Kaif-Saif Ali Khan-starrer Phantom when the first trailer was released. Now with the film running in theatres, we realise that the filmmaker's claims that anything related to 26/11 Mumbai attacks does sound jingoistic, was an understatement.
Based on former investigative journalist S Hussain Zaidi's novel Mumbai Avengers, director Kabir Khan's Phantom was never meant to be a great piece of cinema. Never mind that the original plot and the story had everything in it that could be turned into an edge-of-the-seat thriller Bollywood has been waiting for years. But what mars the final product is pedestrian acting, by both Katrina Kaif and Saif Ali Khan, and a loose script.
An old tea-seller roaming on a bicycle around the Taj Hotel won't charge anyone for his tea. Why? Because he has just got the news that the mastermind of the attack in which his son (who was a waiter at the hotel) was killed, has been eliminated in Pakistan. The old man tells Katrina, "Aisa laga mere bete ki rooh ko sukoon mil gaya." Jingoism much?
Phantom is a fictionalised account of Daniyal Khan (Saif Ali Khan), an Indian Army officer who's hand-picked to spearhead a covert mission to eliminate the masterminds of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, with the help of a three-member team: two Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officials Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Bengali actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty, the brain behind the mission, and "security agent" Nawaz (Katrina Kaif), who works for an American company that "supplies" arms to Mujahideens.
For all the high-pitched drama that you would expect from a story as charged as this, Phantom falls flat from the word go. Not that the script does not try. In fact, it tries a little too hard to build the tempo around events at several points in the film. Case in point: A series of long-winded scenes where Sohaila Kapur, a Pakistani nurse who helps Saif and Katrina in their mission, is surrounded by Pakistani Army/ISI (Phantom does not make any distinction between the two). She kills herself before the troops catch her, but all through the sequence, the daredevil in Nawaz couldn't get herself to come out of hiding and do anything to save the old woman. She leaves the scene when shots are fired.
Really? And we thought she was part of a covert operation to neutralise a ruthless international terrorist! One more thing. Somebody please tell us how the leader of a mission, which is not official, could pay 10 thousand pounds to Nawaz for simply identifying one of the main accused in the 26/11 attacks? But then, maybe we should overlook logical failure for the sake of patriotism.
Talking of patriotism, there is too much of it in Phantom. From jingoistic dialogues to really vague ideas, this film has an overdose of it all. But then, it is just the right kind of drama that will draw the crowd to the box office, and help rake in the money to make it the second hit-in-a-row for director Kabir Khan, after the success of Salman Khan's Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Kabir, nonetheless, needs to be lauded for his efforts. He has taken care of several minute details in the movie to ensure that its political impact is not blunt. His simple message through the film, as we see it, is that India as a country should not bow down to terrorism in the name of diplomatic complexities. He's also played it pretty safe: By giving 'Muslim' names to all the key players in the mission (except the one who gave the idea).
Some of the dialogues also border on jingoism, but no less interesting and catchy. While trying to convince his seniors at RAW for the "mission", Ayyub says, "Ye log (terrorists) kitna bhi attack karein, hum (India) kuch karte to hain nahi, bus cricket khelna band kar dete hain."
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In his attempt to get Daniyal on board, Ayyub says again: "Jab 10 jahil launde ek sheher me tabahi macha sakte hain to hum kyu unki dahshat-nagri me aag nahi laga sakte?"
Watch Phantom just for the character actors if you have to. All of them -- Sohaila Kapur, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Sabyasachi Chakraborty -- deliver power-packed performances, as if to compensate for the lead pair's lack of acting skills.
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