At 57, can Shah Rukh Khan shoulder the burden of powering an action thriller like Pathaan, upon whose success probably rests, not just a refuelling of his career but the very future of Bollywood? In a post Covid cinematic landscape where superstars and production houses are forced to re-jig the staid old formula to attract fans back into the theatres does Pathaan, directed by Siddharth Anand (War) make the cut?

Shah Rukh alongside ‘bhai’ Salman Khan can be counted among the last of Bollywood’s superstars. So it’s only fitting that King Khan marks his comeback after a 4-year sabbatical (his last release was 2018’s Zero) guns blazing, fists pounding, bronzed 6-pack abs gleaming, jumping off buildings, flying mid-air fuelled by cinematic licence alone - looking admittedly a bit threadbare with his stubble and unkempt hair, but nevertheless with his charm intact.

As far as Pathaan’s plot is concerned, any storyline that lets its embattled hero pilot a chopper through buildings, jump mid-air with no safety harness and face off against a dozen international adversaries, each of whom are kind enough to wait their turn to try their luck against India’s biggest superstar, is of course not the only thing that is holding the spy thriller together.

Khan plays a former RAW agent, Pathaan, who is resurrected by his erstwhile boss (played by a classy Dimple Kapadia) to fight off Outfit X, led by an extremely dapper and effective Jim ( John Abraham in his career best we’d say) an international terrorist bent on taking revenge on ‘Bharat Maa’. Deepika Padukone plays a slightly confused ISI agent, Dr Rubina Mohsin, code named Rubai, who is not exactly sure where her allegiance should lie, but does whatever action is demanded of her with absolute elan and looking like a supermodel, need we add.

The action flits from India to Afghanistan, Spain, Russia, UAE, and France - a whirlwind trip that could easily give one a heavy dose of jet lag, but not our intrepid spies.

Watching Pathaan may give one a heavy sense of deja vu - there are shades of Mission Impossible, James Bond, a heist scene a la Oceans Eleven and closer to home, the Tiger series headlined by Bollywood’s other resident spy Salman Khan.

In the end Pathaan is a typial Bollywood action-thriller that wears its patriotism on its sleeve. What elevates it from being another over the top, spy thriller where the action scenes are better choreographed than the plot line, is the presence of Khan alongside an extended cameo by another superstar.

Their quips about ageing bodies and tongue-in-cheek references to there being no worthy successor to their action star avatars showcase that Pathaan is not averse to taking pot-shots at itself. Watch if you are a Khan fan or even an action junkie. Just don’t go expecting any original story or plot that keeps you hooked to the screen. In other words to rephrase Pathaan’s dialogue to Jim - ask not what Pathaan can do for you, just ask how well you can be entertained by Pathaan’s six-pack abs and charm!

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