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Phantom Movie Review

Phantom is a film that knows where it is going, but has no clue how to get there.

  | February 26, 2016 18:24 IST


<i>Phantom</i> Movie Review
  • Genre:
    Action Thriller
  • Cast:
    Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Mir Sarwar, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Rajesh Tailang, Qazi Touqeer
  • Director:
    Kabir Khan

Fact, fiction and fantasy are mixed in slapdash style in Phantom. Some parts of the explosive drama that co-writer and director Kabir Khan creates are gripping, but the rest of the action is either poorly paced or painfully perfunctory.

Imagine a sequence in which two Indian secret agents are in the Syrian army's line of fire in rebel-controlled Qudssaya, with a Pakistani operative tracking them.

The duo fights back, but Phantom is unable even in this perilous situation in a conflict zone to generate the expected edge-of-the-seat tension. It feels like just another routine action scene.

Actually that is precisely what Phantom is like as the whole - its flashy firepower seems like a lot of wasted ammunition.

A mechanical spy thriller that only occasionally backs up all the noise it makes with genuinely electrifying moments, it, however, pulls no punches in calling a spade a spade.

Although the film asserts that its characters are all imaginary, the principal antagonists are all modelled on the most wanted terror masterminds that are a thorn in India's flesh.

Phantom begins with a car chase in Chicago, which ends with a man plunging into the icy waters of a river.

The protagonist (Saif Ali Khan) is convicted for murder and jailed. Cut to the office of the RAW chief (Sabyasachi Chakrabarty), where he and his trusted men (Rajesh Tailang, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub, etc) plan a daring covert operation.

Daniyal Khan, a dead-end ex-soldier with a completely deadened sense of life and death is pulled out of oblivion and pressed into service by the spy agency to wreak vengeance on the men who planned the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

The RAW chief who orders the killings does not have the permission of the home minister and hence he has to keep everything under wraps. The reclusive Daniyal fits his plan like a glove.

This wishful construct, derived from S Hussain Zaidi's book Mumbai Avengers, is pretty flat and predictable, especially in the first half as the angry male protagonist, sacked from the army on charges of desertion, grabs the opportunity to redeem himself.

It is only when the Indian agent infiltrates Pakistan with the help of a former RAW operative, Nawaz Mistry (Katrina Kaif), that Phantom springs to some degree of life.

Obviously, the men that Daniyal targets - they have names such as Sajid Mir, Sabahuddin Umvi and Haaris Saeed - aren't easy pickings, but he has gutsy accomplices in and around Mohalla Johar, Lahore.

But that is only one little corner of the world. Daniyal, Nawaz in tow, traverses virtually the entire globe - Chicago, London, Amman, Beirut and Lahore - to pull off his mission impossible.

The sacked army man scours some of the most dangerous places on earth to smoke out with the aim of eliminating the terror masterminds.

But where pray is all the excitement that an action-packed thriller should have generated?

Kabir Khan is on a roll after Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a film that reveled in celebrating the idea of peace in the region. Phantom goes to other end of the spectrum and harps on an eye-for-an-eye philosophy. The question the film poses is: if the US can do it, why can't India?

We cannot because Bollywood does not have either a Daniel Craig or a Tom Cruise to add heft to fanciful actioners.

But to Khan's credit, his narrative eschews jingoism and stops short of painting the whole of Pakistan with the same brush.

He goes to the extent of underlining that ordinary Pakistanis may have suffered no less at the hands of terrorists than the innocent Indians caught in the vortex of a never-ending proxy war.

The Phantom storyline includes an elderly Pakistani woman who has lost her son to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and is sucked into the war on terrorism.

The lead actors are the weakest links in Phantom. Saif Ali Khan is in Agent Vinod territory here: he believes being poker-faced is being unflappable.

Stripped of visible emotional energy, the character he plays does not evolve into a figure the audience can relate to.

Katrina Kaif is as pretty as ever, but that clearly is the last thing that she is supposed to be in this film.

Her character, the daughter of a Parsi insurance agent, nurses a deep sense of hurt. She remembers spending her girlhood years having tea with chocolate pastries at the Taj Mahal Hotel cafe.

It is only the glycerine under her eyes in a scene in the second half that suggests how aggrieved she is at what the terrorists did to the Taj. Her face reveals nothing at all.

The better actors in the cast - Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Rajesh Tailang and Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub - are no more than mere passengers on this jerky ride.

Phantom is a film that knows where it is going, but has no clue how to get there.
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