Pathaan and how to make a comeback

Shah Rukh Khan’s hiatus made a lot of people think his star has faded, but he proved it hasn’t.

Shah Rukh Khan, often known as SRK, is undeniably a Bollywood icon. With a career spanning over 30 years, an undeniable star quality, as well as classics like DDLJ and Om Shanti Om under his belt, it’s shocking to even think that his star power couldn’t make any film a hit.

Well, it was.

In 2018, after the release of his film Zero, SRK took a break. While this break probably would’ve been for only 2 years, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that SRK could only return to acting in 2022, and he has come back better than ever.

When making a comeback film for a personality like SRK, it’s important to emphasise one element, star power. The film needs to show why audiences fell in love with the star and how that star would earn their admiration again, mostly by placing that star front and centre of the production.

It also needs to emphasise the importance of that star to the film, and that’s something Pathaan really did well. As the fourth entry in the YRF Spy Universe franchise, it places emphasis on SRK’s star power to drive the franchise forward with a massive hit. This was also the first film in the franchise to connect the third entry’s characters to the first two, which meant that the film wouldn’t entirely rely on star power, allowing them to have more fun with other characters rather than letting SRK overwhelm the viewer.

To call Pathaan a success, it’s almost understating the effect it’s had. In 4 days, the film has grossed $54 million, becoming SRK’s highest-grossing film of his career as well as the highest worldwide opening weekend gross for a Hindi film. Pretty impressive for a comeback, right?

It’s reductive to act like SRK is the only reason for this, however.

First and foremost, Pathaan is an action film, and what a great action film it is. The scenes with guns give the weapons an impact you can really feel, as a result of the effects and sound design. The camera also tracks the guns like it’s attached to them, which creates some memorable shots.

The hand-to-hand combat is just as good. When SRK throws a punch or a hit, the camera tracks it so smoothly you almost flinch when it stops as punches or kicks connect with their targets. The sound design of the hand-to-hand combat is also notable, as the effects convey just how much force is behind every single attack, essential in any action film.

While that’s all well and good, the set pieces are the final piece of the puzzle to really make it a good action film, and they really fit perfectly with the other elements to make this film’s action worth praising. Ranging from a truck, and a train, all the way to jetpacks, the adrenaline is pumping in every sequence. Sticking to genre conventions, these locations are also all around the world, making it that much more entertaining as the stars fight in a variety of landscapes.

However, it’s not all action, which is both good and bad.

The dialogue has a good mix of both originals as well as references. While a lot of the dialogue, especially in the humorous scenes, is filled with references to SRK’s career and personality, it’s not necessarily overbearing due to the film using SRK’s star power in the right ways and not allowing him to overwhelm the other characters.

The story is unfortunately quite barebones. It has some typical twists and turns, some of them being pretty blatantly foreshadowed in hindsight, but for a first watch, it won’t affect the average viewer. That said, it does manage to make use of the dramatic moments, and it does keep tension in spite of these flaws, so to act as though a barebones story ruins this film is wrong. It’s not that the story is weak because of bad writing, but because it understands that it’s not a complicated action thriller like Heat or Training Day.

The acting is what really saves the film. I’m sure to his fans, SRK’s skill as a leading man needs no introduction, but it really is worth noting how well he portrays Pathaan as the former master secret agent who returns to reclaim his throne. Again, this role was written to suit someone worth giving attention to after a long break, and if anyone is worthy, it’s Shah Rukh Khan.

Deepika Padukone really steps up as the second lead, keeping mystique around her throughout the entire film.

John Abraham is a really menacing villain, and his personality really works well with SRK. Their animosity feels real, and their dynamic keeps the viewer entertained throughout their confrontations.

The colourful side characters make the film really work, however, as they allow for breaks from SRK madness.

Last but not least, we can’t talk about a film like this without mentioning the amazing music, and it really is that good. Typical of a big-budget Bollywood film, the choreography is mesmerising, the melody is loud, and everyone puts all of their energy into it.

Overall, SRK is back and better than ever, and this film is proof of that. While the story is very weak, all the other elements make up for it and make for a very entertaining watch.

Also, Salman Khan is in this, just saying.

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