Movies

‘Phantom:’ Will haunt empty cinema halls

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MUMBAI: Kabir Khan has made it his mission to deal with subjects related to India and Pakistan and their respective espionage agencies. If Ek Tha Tiger was about one-upmanship between two agencies in the field, Bajrangi Bhaijaan too involved ISI, the Pakistani agency, indirectly.

His latest Phantom is about a disrobed army officer for his alleged cowardice so much so that even his proud ex-army man father would not talk to him.

Phantom is about RAW (Research And Analyses Wing), the secret service agency of India, assigning a new recruit the mission to go to Pakistan and eliminate two of India’s biggest enemies, the terrorists, Hafeez Saeed and Zaki-ur- Rehman Lakhvi, the masterminds behind the 26/11 (2008) attacks on Mumbai, which killed 160 people and injured many.

It may be recalled that D-Day, a very slick and thrilling film about RAW agents sent to Pakistan to either eliminate or bring alive Dawood Ibrahim from Karachi, was released in 2013 but fared poorly because, as much as people would have loved that to happen, such an adventure is just not there in our (Indian authorities’) genes.

When the RAW discusses these terrorists, there is a suggestion that they send a team to liquidate them. When it is pointed out that the politicians won’t okay the idea, a suggestion is put forth that it could be a covert operation and politicians need not know about it. If the Americans could do it, why can’t we?

Sadly, the short-sighted filmmakers and writers only know of US operation in Pakistan to assassinate Osama Bin Laden (made in to a film Zero Dark Thirty). The Israelis did it twice earlier, once when they rescued a planeload of Israel nationals held hostage in Idi Amin’s Uganda and later when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered during 1972 summer Olympics by a Palestine group and later Israel’s Mossad systematically singled out each of the perpetrators and killed them. 

We got to dream of such operations and sell such a dream as a film. And, selling such dreams may be easy; their acceptance may not be.

Saif Ali Khan is an army officer, who is fighting a sort of losing battle along with his troupe at the border as a hail of bullets is being fired at his bunk. He needs volunteers to venture out and attack the enemy head-on or do some such thing. Seeing that none of his men are in position to do that having been awake and fighting for three nights running, he decides to take it upon himself to venture out of his bunk. Barely has he moved a few hundred meters when his bunker is attacked by enemies killing all his men. 

Being the only survivor and away from his bunker, he is deemed a deserter and a coward. He is court martialled and discharged. Dishonoured, he becomes a hermit, settling away from humanity, deep in snowy mountains. Out of sight, out of mind, RAW thinks he is the right person to do the job. Reluctant at first, Saif agrees only if to prove to his father that he is not a coward. 

Saif starts his mission with a visit to UK where Katrina Kaif joins him on his mission. Initially, she is just supposed to identify a particular ISI agent to Saif for which, she claims, she gets paid 10,000 sterling pounds. 

Director Kabir Khan has this fancy of shooting across foreign locations. So next, Saif heads to Chicago where he fakes a crime and gets arrested; his plan is to kill David Headley, who spied for Pakistan in India.

Next, he moves on to the war-torn Syria for whatever reasons, sprays bullets all around, braves all the bullets sprayed at him and leaves enough marks for IAS to identify him! He tries to sell a story to ISI that he is a humiliated soldier from the Indian army who wants to join ISI and avenge his humiliation. When nobody buys his story, he walks into Pakistan anyway as Katrina seems to know her way around. Oh, yes, she does not mind the adventure though it is not a part of the 10,000 sterling pounds deal with the RAW.

Saif goes around killing ’Nakhvi’ and sundry others till he finally catches up with ‘Hafeez Saeed.’ It is all a cakewalk for him so much so that you start doubting the intentions and commitment of the real RAW! But, you don’t because this film and its plots are more banal than a bunch of children playing Chor Police! It is as if, Lakhvi and Hafeez are waiting to be slaughtered by a RAW agent!

Kabir likes to end his film on a high pitched patriotic note. So, here, Saif, a Muslim ex-army man, sacrifices his life for his country, India. Well? 

The problem with Phantom is that though started early, it comes after a few similar films about counter espionage between RAW and ISI and, hence, no novelty value. What’s more, the script is amateurish and predictable. The direction is hackneyed and takes the viewer for granted. The film lacks in music, romance and whatever other ingredients one needs to make a film palatable. Even action and thrill expected out of such a film is at premium. 

Saif and Katrina share no chemistry, in fact, Katrina’s character is not even defined. She seeks revenge from Pakistanis because they tried to destroy Hotel Taj Mahal, Mumbai, where her dad took her once a week for tea when she was a child! Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub is a new recruit at RAW and it is his idea to send Saif to Pakistan to kill the villains; he is brighter than all others at the RAW including its chief. So much for the most reputed secret service agency of India! 

The film’s tagline reads: A story you wish were true. It can’t be, it is not the Indian way. But, as fiction too, Phantom is poor.

Producers: Sajid Nadiadwala, Siddharth Roy Kapur

Director: Kabir Khan

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub

‘Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat:’ This is not cinema!

Some people seem to have resources but have no inkling of what to do with them. So they decide to make a film but, sadly, they seem to have no idea or knowhow of filmmaking either. The result is usually a film like Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat and such. 

It seems like a bright idea for the makers to assemble a star cast of the ones who are usually given gap filler roles and regular commercial movies or, generally, feature in such films, which enrich them financially but not the film trade. So, this film brings together Sanjay Mishra, Rakesh Bedi, Rajpal Yadav and Vijay Raaz and lets them loose in front of the camera. Since there is no funny script on hand, they embark on farcical acts and gestures.

Rajpal (Baaneky) is getting older and no girl is willing to marry him. He is not quite a girl’s idea of a man she would like to spend her life with. He is ordinary looking, is not quite smart and is rejected wherever his marriage proposal is taken. Rajpal is a desperate man now and, on their part, his family members are sad for him. However, not for long as they send a proposal for Rajpal but with a picture of some other lad. The girl’s family approves of it. 

The idea is to bring a bride home after which Rajpal can replace the man who married the bride, Tia Bajpai in this case. The comedy is supposed to be during the baraat reaching the wedding venue and till they return with the bride. The fall guy who is made to play Baankey aka groom is Satyajeet Dubey. His father owes money to Bedi and Sanjay and he agrees to pose as a groom on the promise of his father’s debts being written off. 

As the baraat charade goes on and, finally, the time for tying the knot is due, the bride to be and the groom to be, Tia and Satyajeet, have already fallen in love and have also sung a dream song!

The wedding is done with and the baraat returns home. To her surprise, Tia finds Rajpal gearing up to celebrate the first night with her instead of the man she married, Satyajeet. 

This is a poorly thought up film slated for a poor fate.

Producer: Anita Mani

Director: Aijaz Khan

Cast: Sanjay Mishra, Rakesh Bedi, Gulshan Grover, Vijay Raaz, Satyajeet Dubey, Tia Bajpai

‘Kaun Kitney Paani Mein:’ Made to sink

Kaun Kitney Paani Mein could well be a story out of Chandamama magazine or Panchtantra! It verges on a children’s story with a moral at the end.

The film starts in a feudal background when the local Rajas had lost their kingdoms but their subjects still worshipped them, never daring to look up the Raja in the eye and serve him like a slave. This is about a king of a small fiefdom where there are two kinds of people, the royals and the subjects who are treated as untouchables, inhuman. Their only job is to serve the king and plough for him with almost nil returns. If the king’s subject dare fall in love with his daughter, both are killed so what if the girl is the king’s own blood? 

The times have changed, the raja in ‘thorn’ is Saurabh Shukla. His ancestors never thought about the welfare of their people and spent life in indulgence. They used to get ample rain being on an upper terrain but never thought of building lakes, wells or ways to store water. All their monsoon water would flow down to the town of the people the rajas looked down upon who were smart enough to build reservoirs. 

Saurabh, the raja, starts his mornings with a whiskey. He has limited options: he can either add water to his drink, wash after using the toilet or gargle. There is never enough water for a bath. Saurabh is stoned broke. He plans to sell his land as well as villages but without water, there is no buyer. 

Kunal Kapoor, Saurabh’s son, studying away in a city comes visiting. He has been living on borrowed money because Saurabh has no money to send to him. His ambition of going to the UK for further studies is also in jeopardy.

While Saurabh’s area is defined as Upri, the other one is known as Bairi. Bairi has no raja but the people have their leader in Gulshan Grover who aspires to become an MLA soon. His area is well cared for and has ample water as well as skills. Gulshan has a daughter, Radhika Apte, who is well-versed with needs of the people being a graduate from an agri university. 

Saurabh thinks of the only way out from his miseries and that is for Kunal to go seduce Gulshan’s daughter and make her pregnant! That way, his people can get some water. As it would happen, however, a romance blossoms between Saurabh’s son, Kunal, and Gulshan’s daughter, Radhika. Gulshan’s political ambitions get a brain in Kunal.

This is not really a subject for either the national audience or for the purpose of entertainment and could easily have been made into a regional film. Shot between a few locations with no props, it is the kind of film woven around a rural audience and theme that there is no identification for the rest. 

In such a film, it makes little sense to talk of performances or other aspects. For, finally, it is all a waste.

Kaun KItney Paani Mein is another film flushed down the lost cause list.

Producer: Nila Madhab Panda

Director: NIla Madhab Panda

Cast: Kunal Kapoor, Radhika Apte, Saurabh Shukla, Gulshan Grover

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