Headley looks Anglo, but he was the American-born son of a high-ranking
Pakistani diplomat. Under his mother’s maiden name, he became a drug-trafficker
and a terrorist, who was instrumental in planning the 2008 Mumbai terrorist
attacks. He is currently serving a thirty-five year sentence in Federal prison as
part of a plea bargain that precludes his extradition to India. The Indian
government took exception to the arrangement—and who could blame them? However,
Headley and his fellow Islamist terrorists will finally get what’s coming to
them in Kabir Khan’s international thriller, Phantom (trailer
is now playing in New York.
military commando Daniyal Khan is now so far off the grid, it is almost like he
never existed in the first place. The chip on his shoulder is still very real
though. Altogether, he is the perfect stealth candidate to execute a series of
off-the-books assassinations on behalf of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW),
their CIA equivalent. Finally, Khan will bring some cold hard justice to the
men behind the 26/11 attacks, perpetrated by the Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba, with
some degree of coordination with Pakistani intelligence. Basically, he will be
a lone wolf, but from time to time Nawaz Mistry, a military contractor working undercover
with an NGO, will lend a helping hand.
is very much a real life figure and just about as odious as J. Brandon Hill
portrays him, if not more so. Presumably, everyone on Khan’s hit list are based
on historically culpable terrorists (such as the hate-preaching Hariz Saeed),
or constitute composites that are close enough for government work. However,
the truly eye-opening aspect of the film is the presumed open collusion between
Lashkar-e-Taiba and all levels of the Pakistani government. Khan often trades gun
fire with Pakistani cops and soldiers, but he is never aiming to miss, like the
A-Team. This war is not a very cold one.
its way, Phantom is quite the
education for American audiences. Without question, the Mumbai attacks,
Lashkar-e-Taiba, and David Headley have all been woefully under-reported in
this country, because the media finds it so uncouth to dwell on Islamist
terrorism. Well, anyone traveling to Mumbai would be well advised to get up to
speed before leaving, because the wounds there are still raw.
Phantom is absolutely a
revenge fantasy thriller and if you expect Kabir Khan to apologize for it, you
are in for a long wait. He stages some satisfying high octane action scenes and
the plan to get Headley is particularly clever. Frankly, it is rather embarrassing
the American film industry never targeted Bin Laden in a similar fashion.
Daniyal Khan, Saif Ali Khan is so badass he doesn’t even have time to swagger.
He’ll just squint you dead. Since this is Bollywood, he does not have much
opportunity to develop romantic chemistry with Katrina Kaif’s Mistry either,
but she holds her end up in the action sequences. Hill is an apt dead-ringer for
Headley, so to speak, but Denzil Smith almost has too much steely gravitas for
Haider, the villainous Pakistani intelligence chief.
Kabir Khan keeps Phantom cruising at such a crisp gallop, it seems much shorter than
its two hour-plus running time. It is abashedly pro-India and anti-terror, but
what’s wrong with that? Unfortunately, it is scheduled to end its midtown run
this Thursday (9/10), which seems slightly perverse. If ever there was a day
for its cathartic payoff, it would be September 11th. Recommended
for fans of Bollywood action and 24-style
payback, Phantom is currently playing
limited shows in New York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Bollywood, Indian Cinema, Kabir Khan, Terrorism in film