Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif
Phantom is based on Mumbai Avengers, a thriller by crime journalist Hussain Zaidi that blends fact with fiction. The avengers in the title are a few brave Indian agents who go after the Pakistani masterminds who planned the horrific siege of Mumbai in November 2008. In director Kabir Khan’s retelling of the story, the team of avengers becomes two people — Saif and Katrina. Saif plays Daniyal, a disgraced Army officer who sees this as his one chance at redemption. This idea, of a fallen man who finds salvation in a second chance, is not exactly new.
Once Daniyal accepts the mission impossible, he traipses through various countries nailing the baddies. Katrina plays Nawaz Mistry. She works for some sort of American security company, which enables her to get in and out of war zones.
For much of the first half Phantom feels both confused and cosmetic. It occupies a no-man’s land between the more effectively gritty D-Day and the more comic book-style Ek Tha Tiger. But Phantom becomes far more coherent and gripping in the second half, when the action moves to Pakistan. By the end, the film is genuinely moving. Kabir and his co-writer Parveez Shaikh press all our patriotic buttons. They succeed in making us salute.
Credit for this also goes to the actors, especially Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who is a master of saying so much with so little. Saif isn’t consistently persuasive but he shines in the second half and eventually wins you over. Katrina is a harder sell.
In the foreword to Hussain’s book, Kabir writes: “The killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad provided a perfect sense of closure for Americans after 9/11. In this book and my film, Hussain and I have tried to recreate that similar feeling for our countrymen.”
Phantom does deliver on this promise. It leaves you somewhat satisfied.