Siddharth Anand, director of Pathaan, channels Shah Rukh Khan’s electric on-screen charm like few directors have of late.
The hair is tousled, the eyes have lines around them that make-up can’t hide—in most scenes his face is buried under blood-splattered eyeballs and granular scars. Yet, the charm of a wise old, battered spy firmly in the mould of Bond, but with a sufficiently desi-sentimental heart and mongrel beginnings defying religion and geography—he is unapologetically a South Asian hero, not just an Indian one here—is instrumental in his crackerjack resurgence. Perhaps to seem safe enough to be admired for post-millennials and Gen-Z, he consumes green apples and fat-free yoghurt instead of alcohol and tobacco—the cheap neat whiskey is left for the woman.
Those who have grown up on 1990s’ once-a-week Doordarshan TV serials will remember Fauji. It was one of Khan’s earliest lead roles, in which he played an Indian Army commando in training; it was set in a military school. If you take out the 2023 action staging—in a team of many action specialists, there is Craig Macrae who is one of the names in the Mad Max: Fury Road credit roll and Casey O’Neill who has worked with Tom Cruise, among other Hollywood actors—and the Hollywood-aspirant technology on glorious display, this could be the older and battle-scarred version of that old fauji who accidentally became a ladies’ man along the way.