Film Review: 'Phantom'
Opened: 28 August 2015
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Sohaila Kapur and Sabyasachi Chakraborty
Director: Kabir Khan
Producers: Sajid Nadiadwala, UTV
"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind..." – Mahatma Gandhi
I'm all for a film with a deep rooted message and even unnecessary jingoism doesn't really rile me. However, I do have problem with films like Phantom which unabashedly stir up a brewing storm between nations that have been at war for as long as history can remember. Kabir Khan's film, while noble in intent, is just that – an attempt to stir up a hornet's nest with an overtly simplistic solution to a problem that needs to be dealt with with a little more sensitivity.
Loosely based on Mumbai Avengers, a book by S. Hussain Zaidi, who also co-wrote the film's screenplay, Phantom revolves around a disgraced army officer, Daniyal Khan (Saif Ali Khan), who's appointed by the Indian R.A.W. chief (Sabyasachi Chakrabarty) to avenge the atrocities endured by India in Mumbai's 26/11 terror attacks which killed 166 people and injured many more. His mission: to weed out the masterminds behind the attack whilst remaining icognito, and armed with nothing except the aid of a London based security consultant (a pretty as peach but WOEFULLY out of depth, Katrina Kaif), who looks so fragile she couldn't injure a fly, let alone kick a terrorist's butt. And here Khan makes the epic mistake of placing her in the most dangerous situations across the world, by making her perform stunts that miraculously leave both her hair and make up intact!
Subsequently, their mission transports them to various spots in the world and ultimately to Pakistan, where they hatch a dreaded plot that will bring their adversaries to their knees, but will ultimately come at a sacrifice that neither of them saw coming.
Despite resting on a ludicrous premise, Phantom is watchable at least in parts. To his credit, Kabir doesn't overstuff the film with irrelevant characters and the first half sails by, but it's the second half that becomes taxing to watch, especially when he tries to delve into character backstories to make their vigilante actions seem justifiable. It's almost as if these character arcs were added in as an afterthought, to give the film more depth and palpability and sadly, it doesn't quite work.
The core problem with Phantom, is that it clearly needed a more solid cast. Saif Ali Khan, who's riding on a wave of duds desperately tries to shoulder the responsibility of this hugely mounted film, but despite being a perfectly able actor he just has far too much Nawabi swag and polish to pull of a part as roguish, raw and gritty as Daniyal's.
The weakest link in the film though, unsurprisingly, turns out to be Kaif who's so unbelievably stiff and plastic she could give her waxwork at Madame Tussaud's a run for its money. A crucial scene where she's reminiscing about her childhood falls flat because none of her glycerine filled expressions evoke the required pathos or sympathy. And I don't buy the whole Parsi garb anymore. It's a farce and doesn't distract from painful acting. Phantom needed and deserved a far believable heroine to make it convincing and unfortunately, Kaif just isn't cut up for it.
The only half decent performances come from it's supporting players headed up by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who despite his ill defined character infuses his part with a bit of depth and dignity, while Sohaila Kapur and Sabyasachi Chakraborty lend able support in smaller parts, but there's little they can do if the film's already headlined by a listless cast.
As I said earlier, the film itself has been gorgeously mounted and shot spectacularly with larger than life frames, but a pretty background can only do so much to disguise a simplistic script and an insipid screenplay. Still despite its faults, Khan at least steers clear of adding unnecessary songs in the film (the soulful 'Saawre' plays in the background, while 'Afghan Jalebi' plays during a key plot twist), and even the subtle romance between Kaif and Khan isn't given much airtime, which works massively in its favour.
Phantom is director Kabir Khan's second film in six weeks and while Bajrangi Bhaijaan had Harshali and heart as its trump cards, this film doesn't evoke even a fraction of empathy as the former, purely because its characters are synthetic cardboard cutouts played by actors that bring very little gravitas to their parts.
The end result is a film that remains watchable, but with such a deep rooted and controversial message at its core, deserved to be much more than the one that was eventually meted out to us.