What Makes Pathaan A Pop-Culture Phenomenon? Its Progressive Politics

Cinema brings humanity’s immense capacity for compassion, unity and brotherhood to the fore. That holds true for Pathaan
What Makes Pathaan A Pop-Culture Phenomenon? Its Progressive Politics

Pathaan had a monstrous theatrical run and has been trending on Amazon Prime Video ever since it dropped. Here are six scenes from the film that made it, in my opinion, a popular culture phenomenon.

Pathaan’s Introduction Scene

Pathaan’s introduction scene serves as a perfect comeback for Shah Rukh. Unlike a conventional action hero, Pathaan is introduced as a bruised and vulnerable man. With his head bowed down and his hands tied to a chair, he is being hit left, right and centre. Instead of showing us his full face, director Siddharth Anand begins with the eyes and then the lips, all of which are covered in blood and then slowly his voice saying that iconic phrase - “zinda hai”. It is a classic meta moment because Shah Rukh himself had been missing from the big screen after a string of failures. Raafe saying “Pathaan miyaan ka dil zakhami hai, Ishq aur mushq chupaye nae chupte” is symbolic of Pathaan’s emotional pain besides the physical one he is being subjected to. When Pathaan finally gets up and starts hitting back with equal force, one sees the grit behind the battered body. Like his character, Khan too has returned on the big screen as an action hero, at the age of 57, looking all lean and mean.

Jim’s Introduction Scene

It feels refreshing to see John as a intelligence agent turned terrorist, given the patriotic public servant characters he has been playing, lately. Beefed up and armed, Jim walks into the frame with a quiet suave whistling “ae mere watan ke logo”. He also has a patriot tattoo on the side of his neck. Unlike a conventional villain who laughs loudly, Jim quietly smirks. He tells Pathaan “tum lucky ho kyunki tum ye jhoot lekar maroge ki tumhari deshbhakti ka kuch matlab tha”. Having lost his wife and unborn child because the government refused to negotiate with terrorists, he feels betrayed by his country. Later into the scene when he gets into a fight with Pathaan, he emerges as the stronger one. This determination is also a result of his deeply traumatic experiences. Jim’s introduction seen establishes him as a cold and tough man with a clear plan and a purpose. One immediately knows that Pathaan, being more instinctive and emotional, will have a tough time fighting against him. In action films, it is quite obvious that our hero will emerge as the winner but it is a strong villian that makes us want to invest in the how part of it.

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Rubai’s Introduction Scene

Rubai is introduced to us through the song - 'Besharam Rang'. A sensual song and dance sequence is a brilliant way of introducing a femme fatale character. The sequence also serves as a perfect extension as it ends with a smitten Pathaan following her only to be mislead by her. Later in the scene, she hits Jim’s colleagues to save Pathaan. One sees her banging their heads against wine bottles, picking up a stool to hit them, twisting their heads and throwing them on the ground. Deepika seamlessly transitions from a sensual magnetic woman lip-syncing and dancing to 'Besharam Rang' to a tough intelligence agent performing action sequences. 'Besharam Rang' and the extended action sequence following it prepares one for Rubai’s unpredictable nature.

Pathaan’s Naming Scene

When Rubai asks Pathaan whether he is a Muslim, he tells her that he has no idea what he is, who he is or even who his parents were. All Pathaan remembers is growing up in remand homes and juvenile centres. He feels that his country has brought him up. This scene is where one realises that Pathaan’s love for his country goes well beyond his profession. For Pathaan, saving his country is not just his professional duty, it is a need because it is the only thing he knows about himself - that he’s an Indian. He seeks identity and meaning in his nation because he has no religion, no family, no home to call his own. Later in the scene, we see a flashback of his first mission to Afghanistan where he rescued some children but got injured himself. When he came back to his senses, an old lady from the village tied a tabeez around his arms and called him Pathaan. It is deeply moving to see Pathaan teary eyed when she tells him that he belongs to their village and the village belongs to him.

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Tiger and Pathaan Scene

Tiger needs no introduction. One just needs to see that iconic black and white checkered scarf to know he’s arrived. It is even more fun to watch him walk into the frame with a cup of coffee and some painkillers for an injured Pathaan. When Pathaan says that age old line mard ko dard nae hota, Tiger replies rakh le bhai. Tiger and Pathaan together on screen, being self-deprecating about their age and kicking goons has to be by far the coolest cameo appearances.

The Sacrifice Season

When a group of government officials - intelligence officers, scientists and doctors get infected by a deadly virus, the lab is shut down and they have to take their lives in order to curb the spread of virus. Unlike a chest thumping nationalistic sermon, it is quite but a powerful moment of patriotic expression. As we hear them shooting themselves one by one, we see Pathaan walking down the corridor with tears rolling down his eyes. Every bullet fired is like a jolt to him. It is a reminder to the audience that even though Shah Rukh is playing to beats of a masculine universe, he is still the Shah Rukh we have grown up watching - the vulnerable one who cries when he feels pain.

Pathaan is not a perfect film but it is a film that deserves a popular culture moment because of its progressive politics. Most mainstream successful films in the last year treated women as props and did not give them agency. Pathaan not only has a woman like Dimple Kapadia’s character in a position of power but also has a woman performing hefty action sequences. There is no shying away from the age of it’s titular character. Both Jim and Pathaan’s motivations have an emotional core. There is no chest-thumping nationalism or showing a country in a bad light just because a few of its people have bad intentions. Around the release of the film, Shah Rukh delivered a speech at the Kolkata International Film Festival. One of lines in that speech was - “Cinema brings humanity’s immense capacity for compassion, unity and brotherhood to the fore.” The line holds true for the film that Pathaan is. The film’s monstrous theatrical run in the age of streaming is a testament to that.

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