For regular moviegoers, January 25, 2023, will probably be seen as the day that “Pathaan” was released. For Shah Rukh Khan fans, though, this day will always be remembered as “Shah Rukh Khan Day” or “Pathaan Day.” Because this is the day the King of Bollywood made a triumphant return to the big screen after five years. Yes, he cameoed in a few films between 2018 and 2023. But his entry into the Y.R.F. Spy Universe features him in the leading role for the first time since “Zero” because that’s the position that he deserves.
The plot of the movie, penned by Siddharth Anand (story), Shridhar Raghavan (screenplay), and Abbas Tyrewala (dialogues), is pretty standard. Pathaan (Shah Rukh) is a R.A.W. agent and the founder of a covert operations unit. Jim (John Abraham) is a rogue agent of R.A.W., and the leader of a terrorist unit called Outfit X. And Rubina Mohsin (Deepika Padukone) is an I.S.I. agent who wants to work with Pathaan to stop Jim from causing a deadly pandemic with a virus called “Rakt Beej.” But it’s the simplicity of the narrative that allows Anand and his team to create some cheer-worthy moments around Shah Rukh Khan and truly make the theatrical experience feel like a festive occasion.
Major Spoilers Ahead
1. You Know The Voice, You Know It’s Pathaan
We all knew that Shah Rukh Khan’s entry in the film was going to be something epic. But to hear him draw parallels between his character’s disappearance and his personal absence from the big screen was quite unexpected. In that moment, he seemed to be talking to those who thought that he was gone from the cinematic landscape for good and are now surprised to hear that oh-so-familiar voice once again. And while Khan’s “face reveal” turned the theater into a stadium, every kick, punch, gunshot, and hair-whip got a cheer too as Pathaan exited the villain’s lair and flew off into the sunset.
2. Pathaan Versus Jim, Round 1
As Jim kidnapped a scientist (to mutate the “Rakt Beej”) into his helicopter, Pathaan dropped in from another helicopter, and the crowd went wild. But that wasn’t all, as the two went on to fight atop a Hummer and then a massive truck. The good thing about this altercation was that, despite being preposterous in nature, Anand didn’t show Pathaan overpowering Jim because someone of Khan’s physical prowess couldn’t take down the beast that is John Abraham.
3. Can Pathaan fly?
Pathaan’s time in Moscow with Rubina had a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, with both of them being references to Khan’s movie, “Darr” (the pendant and K-K-Karen), i.e., the movie that began his long-running journey with Y.R.F. But the moment that got the biggest reaction was when Pathaan and Rubina were trying to infiltrate a building, and Rubina’s detachable rope started to malfunction. So, Pathaan cut off his line and flung himself through the air, miles above the ground, to get to Rubina. And just when we thought they were done, the duo landed on the slanted side of the aforementioned building and slid across its face, much like Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) did in “Mission: Impossible II,” and managed to stop themselves from falling to their deaths in the nick of time.
4. Tiger And Pathaan Tag Team
In keeping with the theme of Pathaan being a proficient fighter but not a superhero, he started fighting with a bunch of Russian prisoners while being transported to a prison. However, he soon got overwhelmed and requested the goons to give him a break. When the Russians were about to turn him into pulp, Tiger (Salman Khan) dropped in to give Pathaan a hand. Now, this was special because it was a visual confirmation of the fact that the two characters do exist in the same cinematic universe. More than that, though, it was an extension of their on-screen and off-screen camaraderie that started with “Karan Arjun.” I was hoping for Anand to refer to that movie at least once because you can’t just have the two Khans on the big screen and not have a “Karan Arjun” callback. Surprisingly enough, Anand did it twice. Pathaan and Tiger wielded miniguns, side by side, just like Karan and Arjun did while gunning down Thakur (Amrish Puri), And then, Tiger screamed, “Bhaag Pathaan bhaag” (Run Pathaan run), which was a reference to Karan screaming, “Bhaag Arjun bhaag” (Run Arjun run). The people just couldn’t stop clapping and cheering as that scene unfolded, and I couldn’t help myself from shouting out, “Mere Karan Arjun aa gaye” (My Karan and Arjun have returned), a play on Rakhee’s famous lines. Side note: setting this reunion on a train also seemed to be a continuation of S.R.K. ‘s tryst with trains (“Koyla” and “Dil Se.”).
5. Pathaan Tricks Rubina
After being rescued by Tiger, Pathaan went after Rubina because he wanted to know why she had betrayed him. It was obvious that Rubina had purposefully given away her position to trap Pathaan. And she thought that she had got him, only to find out that the man at her gunpoint was Raza (Pathaan’s teammate), while she was the one at Pathaan’s gunpoint. It was a cool little twist to show that you can trick Pathaan only once.
6. The Pathaan Family
The origin of Pathaan’s name is a neat packaging of Shah Rukh Khan’s relationship to cinema, India, and his religious identity. But the backstory being set in Afghanistan wasn’t a throwaway detail because, in the penultimate moments of the film, it was revealed that Jim’s lair was located near an apparently random Afghani village. Although Jim had used up one of the orbs containing the “Rakt Beej” and had armed the missile headed towards Delhi with the other one, he found out that there was a third orb, and it was infecting those Afghani villagers. When Jim sent his team to find out where that third orb had come from, Pathaan revealed that it was merely a hologram, and the villagers were faking their infection to lure Jim’s goons in. That’s when Pathaan, in a Dom Toretto-esque way, highlighted the importance of family, and the crowd expressed their happiness with screams.
7. Pathaan Infiltrates Jim’s Lair
This seemed like a pretty low-key moment because Shah Rukh Khan merely opened his helmet to reveal that he had infiltrated Jim’s lair. But by that moment, the theater was so amped up that everyone was ready to cheer for everything that the man did in slow motion.
8. Pathaan Versus Jim, Round 2
This was the big showdown that everyone was waiting for, and Anand, Khan, and Abraham didn’t disappoint at all. They started with an aerial fight with both Pathaan and Jim in jetpacks and ended with a brutal fistfight in an abandoned, decrepit hut while the bomb heading to Delhi counted down to zero. When Pathaan finally dropped Jim into a chasm and uttered, “Jai Hind,” everyone joined their hands to celebrate that moment of patriotism.
9. Pathaan Is The Maker and Wielder of the Sword.
The movie had this recurring theme of “kintsugi,” an old age Japanese tradition in which molten gold is used to mend broken pottery. Pathaan said that Ma’am (Dimple Kapadia) was the person who could bring all the broken soldiers of India together to form a cohesive team. While dying, Ma’am passed on that responsibility to Pathaan. And after his final mission, Col. Luthra (Ashutosh Rana) reaffirmed that Pathaan was the only one who could lead J.O.C.R. (Joint Operations and Covert Research) and turn it into a sword that could cut through any and every antagonistic force. But that’s when Pathaan asked a very important question: who was going to wield that sword? Luthra said that if Pathaan was the one making the sword, he should be the one to use it, thereby confirming that no political or bureaucratic authority would control Pathaan.
10. Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan Wonder About the Future of the Y.R.F. Spy Universe and Bollywood
The post-credits scene of “Pathaan” is an absolute delight because it’s not just about the future of the Y.R.F. Spy Universe but Bollywood itself. In that scene, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan weren’t just talking about their characters but the mantles they hold in the Hindi film industry. All of us know that there has been a concerted effort to replace the two Khans with newer and younger actors. But one doesn’t become Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan just because the industry wants someone to. They need to put in that elbow grease, take on roles that no one wants to, ace them, and make a place in the audience’s heart. And after mulling over some prospective candidates (subtly referring to some new and old, self-proclaimed action heroes), when Pathaan and Tiger decided that they’d have to do the job of being the top two contenders, it conveyed the fact that both Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are back in the game, and they are here to stay. Yes, they are aware of their age, and they need painkillers to stay functional. However, since they are irreplaceable (for now), they’ve to take on the responsibility of delivering cinematic blockbusters. Everyone else is failing to do the same anyway.