Phantom

As a 30-year old Indian born and brought up on a steady dose of Bollywood, I believe that I am a patient, low-maintenance and forgiving movie-goer. I have endured and enjoyed a wide variety of mediocre films – the ones that showed a lot of promise but were let down by absurd casting decisions (Ajay Devgn’s Drishyam), ones that had the right cast and story-line but somehow just gave up in the last hour (Ishaqzaade and Badlapur), films that just wanted to make a quick buck by positioning themselves as a new-age entertainer but were inherently as regressive as they get (Any Karan Johar or Imran Khan movie you can think of), even films that were downright stupid (Aiyya). So you see, I’ve been through a lot and if a gun is ever pointed to my head, I’d even find one or two redeeming factors about these movies. But films like Phantom would rather make me urge my captor to pull the trigger and get it over with. Phantom is a classic example of the worst kind of cinema (according to me, of course), the lazy kind; the kind where no one gives a damn about what they are doing.

Let’s just cut to the chase. Phantom starts out like Rambo (there is even a reference of the movie/character by one of the characters in the second half) and ends up trying to be Steven Spielberg’s Munich. And it fails marvelously at both. Now, I don’t hold Spielberg on a pedestal and say that his movies should not or cannot be remade. Akshay Kumar’s Baby and Arjun Rampal’s D-day had pretty similar ‘eye-for-an-eye’ story arc, but were still pretty entertaining movies because (i) some thought had gone into the characterization of the ones seeking revenge and the atrocities being avenged for, and (ii) they had a couple of key sequences that were gripping and/or entertaining. Kabir Khan’s Phantom bothers to do neither.

The film has a forward-backward timeline that comes across as an editing gimmick. The whole ‘story’ could have been told in a linear manner without any loss in meaning or experience. The top guy at R.A.W is swayed into mounting a one-man revenge squad to avenge 26/11 (7 years later, no less) by a rookie played by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (a fine actor saddled with a terrible, unintentionally comical role).

The one-man revenge squad is, of course, our Saif Ali ‘Rambo’ Khan. He is an ex-army man who has a history that the audience never cares about (and neither is it made to). There are a couple of scenes that randomly give him the targets (why are they even using a projector to show pictures that are already there in every news portal possible?), some passports are handed over, a mobile phone is given (with specific instructions not to call back) and a wad of cash is thrown in. No other form of training or reconnaissance is needed (He’s an ex-army man, he’d be well-versed with all the intricacies of espionage, right?).

Our man, then goes about doing his thing across countries ranging from UK, US, Syria and finally, Malerkotla… err.. Pakistan. He knows exactly what to do, because he has read the script (let’s assume that there was one), he has no clue how to emote (because Rambo Khan can’t and no script can teach him that). In these missions, he is helped by Katrina ‘unnecessarily super-hot’ Kaif, an ex-RAW agent now working with an international defence contractor and one whose middle-class insurance agent father living in Colaba used to take her to Taj for tea and pastries (you see, insurance agents earn a lot.. even the middle-class ones).. Every assassination is conveniently plotted and childishly executed.. The audience is spoon-fed every bit of information after it has been thoroughly dumbed down (God forbid if someone in the audience didn’t understand an important plot twist). The result: a movie where the audience understands exactly what is going on, it can in fact predict what is going to happen and yet doesn’t give a damn about any of it. Bravo!

Let me take this opportunity to just call a bluff. This movie wasn’t delayed because there were post-production issues (there is so much wrong here at the production level that no amount of post-production can solve it). It was intentionally delayed because Kabir Khan finally bothered to look at the finished cut and thought “Oops! Can’t release this before or along with Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Let’s just serve this later like sada hua chinese manchurian served after 5-6 rounds of whiskey so that no one knows what they’re being fed.” Well, Mr. Khan, I, unfortunately, was sober and I know bloody well what you served me. And that is all that I have to say about that.

Cocktail – Why drinks don’t mix

The first rule of drinking is that “you do not mix drinks”. The second rule of drinking is that “you DO NOT mix drinks”. Cocktail, directed by Homi Adajania (Being Cyrus) and written by Imtiaz Ali (Socha na tha & Jab we met) and Sajid Ali, breaks both these sacrosanct rules of drink club. First half is frothy and fun like beer while the second half is a bottoms up of whiskey. The result? A tizzying hangover for everyone in the audience ‘involved’.

Cocktail starts off on very shaky grounds. Gautam (Saif Ali Khan, old, tired, trying too hard) is a serial flirt who staunchly believes that the way to finding the true love of your life is to sleep with everyone else. Veronica (Deepika Padukone, smoking hot, needs to learn Hindi) is a Paris Hiton-esque wild kid who tinkers with her camera between wild parties and hangovers. Meera (Diana Penty, sweet, commendable debut) is a demure ‘bharatiya naari’ who gets embroiled in a hoax marriage by Kunal (Randeep Hooda, minuscule role, promising). Gautam flirts with Meera before ending up sleeping and living in with Veronica, before finding ‘true love’ in Meera and before finding himself torn between the two. The story, in case you care, is conveniently predictable and reaches its logical (?) end.

I was squirming in my seat every time I saw Saif flirt with a girl approximately half his age. He is too old for this. But the bigger problem is that he even looks too old for this. He basically takes a leaf out of Aamir Khan’s Akash from Dil Chahta Hai and makes a pulp out of it. In the second half, he has precious little to do except ham, look lost and reprise the now legendary “lekin main… Array wo.. suno to…” dialogue from DCH in his climactic proposal. There is no doubt that Deepika looks great. Also here she has been given some pretty meaty scenes as well. But she kills it every time by screwing up the diction. In one of the major scenes of hers, she ends up saying ‘may’ instead of ‘main’. And that’s that. Diana is lovely. She looks sweet, acts her part without going over the top and provides the film with probably the only emotional anchor. Boman Irani and Dimple Kapadia are great in their respective roles. A special mention should also go to Dimple for finally mentioning the word menopause in a major Hindi movie.

As is the case with most big budget movies these days, Cocktail is technically brilliant. Anil Mehta shoots London and Cape Town as if he’s in love with them. The background music by Salim-Sulaiman is really good and the music by Pritam is great. Although I am having a tough time believing if his music is original.

I really hate it when a film shows promise and shies away from delivering it. Cocktail could have been a great new-age movie centring around live-in relationships and mature friendships. Instead, it strengthens every known cliche of Hindi films: the girl who parties hard and drinks has to have an unhappy childhood or a broken home and she definitely cant win (even if she decides to embrace the bharatiya naari image); the guy can pretty much get away with anything because he’s ‘saat samundar paar’; the demure bharatiya naari has to realise her love only when she is drunk and has partied for the first time. In the end, it becomes a Sangam (1964) where Saif becomes Vyjantimala and Deepika and Diana become Rajendra Kumar and Raj Kapoor disrespectively.

Cocktail proves that spirits (emotions), if not mixed properly, can lead to a terrible hangover. Lemonade, please!

Rating: 3/10 (one for the music, one for photography and one for Diana)

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