In the opening scenes of ” Phantom”, the hero Daniyal Khan( Saif Ali Khan) loses his cool in a road rage incident, pursues the other driver and forces him to a stop on a bridge. After a furious fist fight, Daniyal throws the man to his death in the icy river below, is quickly convicted of murder and sentenced to prison. At this point, viewers may wonder whether they are watching the beginning of the film or the end. Fortunately, a flashback makes things clear…
Six months earlier, a small group of operatives in RAW ( Research and Analysis Wing, India’s version of the CIA) determines to seek retribution for the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, when 10 heavily armed terrorists brought the city to its knees, killing over 150 civilians and setting fire to one the city’s best known landmarks. As one of the analysts bitterly remarks, India’s only response has been to stop playing cricket matches with Pakistan. The group seeks out Daniyal Khan, an ex-army man who has dropped out of sight after being unjustly cashiered out of the army with a dishonorable discharge. They convince him to go on a virtual suicide mission, targeting and killing the masterminds behind the 26/11 attacks. Daniyal’s mission takes him to London, Chicago, Syria and Pakistan as, one by one , he seeks out the terrorists and eliminates them. He is aided in his efforts by a beautiful ” security agent” Nawaz Mistry ( Katrina Kaif) who works for a shadowy military contracting firm , Dark Water. More of the story I do not need to tell you; you can guess the rest.
Predictable though the storyline is, this is still an enjoyable film; a good” time pass”, as my nephew is wont to say. The screenplay is based on the novel ” Mumbai Avengers” by S. Hussain Zaidi and the action-packed film moves briskly, particularly after intermission. The fight sequences are well choreographed and every cinematic gimmick is used to ratchet up the suspense. The plot has some ingenious twists but it also has plenty of holes. How could a looker like Katrina Kaif tail a terrorist mastermind without his being aware of it? How could Daniyal be convicted of murder without there being a dead body? But one has to suspend one’s critical faculties if one wants to enjoy movies like this. The foreign locales, nowadays a standard feature of Bollywood movies, add to the interest. The London scenes which include Lords cricket ground, Tower Bridge and Charing Cross station are really shot in London but the “Chicago” scenes were shot in Vancouver and the Middle Eastern scenes in Beirut. I was curious about the scenes shot in “Pakistan”. It turns out they were actually filmed in Malerkotla, a town in Punjab which was completely transformed to give it the feel of a Pakistani town. It certainly looks authentic. In an action movie of this sort, one doesn’t look for great acting. However, Saif Ali Khan makes a believable hero and Katrina …. looks beautiful. The supporting cast is more than adequate, particularly Mohamed Zeeshan Ayub as RAW officer Samit and Sohaila Kapur as Ameena Bi. The music score by Pritam is enjoyable especially the song Afghan Jalebi.
Phantom has come in for some criticism as being jingoistic ( so , what’s wrong , even if it is ?) a copy of earlier films like Ek Tha Tiger and Agent Vinod ( Haven’t seen them) and anti- Pakistani ( anti-terrorist, yes: anti – Pakistani, no). To those who are offended by it , I say: Chill, it’s only a movie.( *** and 1/2*)