An Jo on Phantom
I quite liked Phantom and am not sure what all the negativity is about. The BEST thing about it is it doesn’t have SALMAN KHAN [or actually any star; I mention Salman since Kabir works with him]. It then gives the makers some leeway into THINKING about other aspects of movie-making. With a below-average actor but a humongous star like Salman Khan, there is always the bait of ‘circling’ around the star. With Saif, there is none of the challenges! He is neither an above-average actor nor – obviously – a star. So Saif’s Daniyal Khan passes off quite well within the parameters of Phantom. It gels quite well with the basic plot – fetch an internet/face-book/twitter-dead Indian Army soldier cursed to anonymity and get him to join an outlandish plot – on paper at least – of bringing covert justice to the perpetrators of attacks on Bombay [there is a smart scene where even a terrorist like Hafeez Saeed’s character is shown twitter-feeding his rally! And in contrast, you have just one internet piece on a disgraced Indian soldier (quite liked the throw-back to Amitabh’s disgraced character in KAALA PATTHAR though). [By the way, this fellow with a moniker of ‘Harris’ Saeed is supposed to be some Professor in the eyes of ISI – you can quite well imagine where he got his ‘Professor’-ship from.]
Kabir Khan pleasantly surprised me with this: Mainly because he keeps his focus throughout. He doesn’t ‘meander’ onto by-lanes like he did with the utterly stupid NEW YORK [only Nawazuddin’s CRASH-inspired patrol-cop humiliation scene saved the film for me] and the pathetic ETT. ETT completely went off-line with ‘Salman Khan’, the star, taking over and the ‘love-story’ between Salman and Katrina taking precedence over ‘spy-antics.’ [Kabir should have watched Redford’s SPY GAMES at least 10 times before even attempting ETT]. Throughout PHANTOM, the slowly bubbling romance between Saif’s Daniyal and Kaif’s Nawaz is relegated to its rightful place – the back-log. That works big-time for the film, and more so in the TITANIC-ESQUE finale. It is cut-to-the-core for the screen-play writers in this movie. The running time is completely devoted to the ‘business’ of eliminating covertly the master-minds of 26/11 Bombay attacks. Very logically then, any ‘tender’ moments or feelings between Daniyal and Nawaz are just fleeting moments brought forth when they are walloping in loneliness in front of the fire-place.
The quest to regain respect – not jingoism— takes Daniyal to London to elimate Abu; to Chicago to eliminate Headley [the only most-wanted character NOT with a false moniker in the movie]; to Beirut to eliminate Qureshi; and finally to Pakistan itself to eliminate Saeed and Ummavi. He is aided by Dark Waters [another convenient moniker to the US’s pet BLACKWATER] security consultant Nawaz [Katrina] in his quest. Of course she is in only because of the pounds [and I mean the English currency] she is getting. Somewhere down the line the mission becomes a part of her too owing to her Parsi roots and thus to the ‘chai’ at or in-front-of Taj at Appolo Bunder (you see, in Bombay, you just cannot separate the Parsis from Taj!).
Now folks – going by Saket’s recent comments against BABY – might try to ‘uncover’ loop-holes in the plot and what not. Yes you might wonder at some convenient contrivances adopted by the plot. But this is NO greater than the ‘glossed-over’ plot-holes in many of the Hollywood flicks at least. This ain’t exactly TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY or even CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR. This is merely MISSION IMPOSSIBLE just wrench-worked with a wee-bit more realism. Coming to sophistication, there is really not much!! And not needed either. I mean here, you are dealing with a country’s administration that has the audacity to claim that Ajmal didn’t belong to Pakistan since his name didn’t show up in their data-base! Right I never realized India and Pakistan have such strong bio-metrics cross-check. You have some-one like Zaid Hamid [ a ‘security-consultant’ – go figure] who claimed that Ajmal was a RAW Hindu named Amar Singh—[I distinctly remember in 2008 thanking God that he didn’t name him Manmohan Singh – that would have been quite weird; not because he would have named India’s PM as a terrorist but because, quite frankly, I – and by extension, I am assuming almost the whole of India at that point in time – was quite skeptical of associating ‘activities’ with Manmohan]— just looking at the CCTVs and pointing out a ‘red’ dhaaga – yes that eternal indicator of a Hindu terrorist – on his wrist. Man, what eyes! Who actually needs a face-recognition software when you have such eyes?
Where Kabir fails in this endeavor is in the finale where the narrative suddenly takes a completely masala turn. This just doesn’t gel with the narrative laid out thus far. Even a fantastic actor like Zeeshan isn’t able to salvage a scene where he convinces the Indian Navy to enter Pakistani waters! [Kabir still tries his wit there by going ‘below’ Pakistani waters and not ‘above’ Pakistani waters]. If rhetoric will be what drives policies of these two nations, only God or whoever substitutes for him can save them. I have to admit, though, that Zeeshan’s reactions and the cycle chai-walla’s scene distributing free chai in front of the Taj on the anniversary of the attacks and on learning that the perpetrators have been brought to justice did have me well up. I admit I KNEW I was being manipulated but it sure was hard to resist.
After my ‘logical’ sense possessed me, I realized this might be the BEST way to attack plastic-brains like Shobaa De— or even The Goddess of ONLY words like Roy— who calls herself a ’Mumbaikar’ but brought in class/status into a horrific event claiming that TAJ was being given undue importance since the terrorists were killing ‘rich’ people. Here you have a road-side chai-wallah distributing chai right in front of the ‘rich’ people’s hotel since he too is affected by what happened at the Taj. No class there eh Shobaa?
One of the characters that really left a lasting-impression on me was Suhaila Kapoor’s Amina Bi. What a dignified presence and performance! As a lonesome mother who lost her son to the proxy wars, this is a fine, fine performance. She is never playing to the gallery and never under-playing either: A very fine balance indeed. Katrina seems to have hit the recidivist-syndrome with this movie. She lapses into bad acting so often that one’s memory goes back to her BOOM days. She looks beautiful indeed. But that’s like saying the sky is blue. Saif is adequate. As mentioned before, his lack of stardom works quite well for the movie. And to his credit, he does have his ‘mannerisms’ restrained. Zeeshan’s role could have been played by anyone.
Make no mistake; this movie is NOTHING MORE than an average Indian’s wet-dream. And it should not be construed as anything more. This is just a symptom of the proxy wars engaged by Pakistan. This is just the Hindi film industry’s milking of the situation – just as Hollywood milked the Cold-war scenario for decades. It might fail on many other levels, but it works as an entertainer. And that’s what worked for me.