Phantom, directed by Kabir Khan, echoes a sentiment similar to the ones expressed in D-Day and Baby – that perhaps it’s time India responded more firmly to terror attacks. Citing America’s daring operation in Abbottabad, we’re reminded that: “Hum sirf cricket khelna band kar dete hain.”
The film then plays out as a wish fulfillment fantasy, imagining a scenario wherein India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) recruits an operative to undertake an off-the-books mission to dispense justice to the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.
Yes, you heard right, a single operative! America sent in roughly two-dozen Navy SEALs to conduct that midnight raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but we send Saif Ali Khan solo – from London to Chicago, from Beirut to Syria, and finally to Pakistan – to systematically eliminate most-wanted Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders and hate-spewing criminal masterminds. Aah right, he’s not exactly alone, a permanently prettified Katrina Kaif, playing a security analyst, decides to help him along the way.
If you’re not too fussy about logic, authenticity, indifferent acting, clunky dialogue, and a lack of basic common sense, there’s a chance you might enjoy Phantom. I really thought I’d be rooting for Saif’s character, Daniyal Khan, a disgraced army man who takes the job because he sees an opportunity to redeem his reputation. But this ridiculous script (loosely based on Hussain Zaidi’s book Mumbai Avengers) makes it hard to be invested in the characters or the action.
The relative ease with which Daniyal dispatches David Coleman Headley to his maker, or the sheer improbability of that confrontation with a LeT chief (modeled after Hafiz Saeed) in the heart of Lahore requires some suspension of disbelief. But it’s the director’s stray attempts to sneak in tenderness and vulnerability that get the biggest laughs. A presumably somber moment when Katrina’s character Nawaz Mistry recounts her childhood memory of being taken to the Taj Mahal Hotel by her father for pastries and coffee is so poorly-timed and ineffectively performed you’ll be struggling to stifle your giggles.
A big problem with Phantom is that it’s never fast-paced and slick like the Bond or Bourne film that it so badly wants to be. The action isn’t particularly compelling, there’s an alarming lack of urgency to the drama, and we’re presented with a hero who isn’t even remotely convincing as a lean-mean-killing machine. The usually dependable Saif Ali Khan has a permanent scowl pasted on his face, and he mostly postures instead of owning the role. This is Saif playing Rambo essentially, but each time he picks up a gun, you want to say: “Rakh de yaar, chal jayegi.”
I’m going with a generous two out of five for Phantom. The jingoistic dialogue and the film’s questionable message aside, this is boring, inert stuff. The director’s last film Bajrangi Bhaijaan feels like Citizen Kane in comparison.