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Pathaan: Why It Took Siddharth Anand 3 Films To Get the Female Lead Right

It took him three films to figure out how to treat a female character in an action film, but we are all glad he did.

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The air crackled around me as Deepika Padukone's Rubina Mohsin sauntered into the frame in slow motion, as Besharam Rang played in the background. I could barely hear the music as the screams around me grew louder. I instinctively leaned back under Deepika's (and Shah Rukh Khan's) subjugation, ready to be entertained at the cost of another talented woman being reduced to eye candy.

This is just another Katrina Kaif Dhoom 3 moment – I thought to myself – as I often do when a female lead in an action film is forced to quickly justify her presence on the screen with a seductive dance number, a la Vaani Kapoor in War, Katrina Kaif in Dhoom 3, amongst many others.

I remember putting this question across to Vijay Krishna Acharya (writer and director of Dhoom 3) during one of our guest lectures in college – whether the absence of any character quirks or even a storyline for Katrina in Dhoom 3 was intentional. I remember him giving me a non-answer, to no fault of his.

Of course, it is intentional – it is an afterthought to think of a story arc for the primary female character, one that does not revolve around furthering the arc of the much more well-compensated male lead.
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A Hindi cinema seductress must only be that, for if she was something else or (gasp!) something more, she might end up losing her ability as a siren. What then will her contribution to the primary male lead's storyline be? If not exposition or the eventual hostage-like situation that most of the female leads in action films find themselves in, what is their purpose?

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Decoding Deepika's Rubina

It took Siddharth Anand three films to figure out how to treat a female character in an action film, but we are all glad he did.

Deepika's Rubina flings men across the screen while looking like an impossible dream, she is an excellent agent and rarely makes the occasional human error, she is vulnerable and guarded, and her trauma is still a meeting place which she steps in and out of.

She is a weapon of mass destruction with a Gatling gun and saves the lives of her male counterparts for her own self-interest, but most of all, she is human. She is as human as they come, even if it is physically impossible for me to think of another human being like Deepika Padukone right now.

The unpredictability of a femme fatale and the soft vulnerability of a familiar Deepika gazing at a familiar Shah Rukh is balanced so wonderfully that it ends up making the audience root for her even when the benefit of the doubt has run dry.

She feels pain and reacts to it, and even though she is in distress, she is no damsel. She is a self-aware renegade, enough to fully understand the extent of her allure and how she must wield it to hook, line, and sinker any man foolish enough to be the Icarus to her sun.

There is substance to her dialogue, which is aided at all times by Deepika's confident portrayal. It gives us a peek into her psyche and character, enough for us to wish for a spin-off (no harm in manifesting). In War (2019), Vaani Kapoor's character Naina's character arc was merely a decoy, an industry-plant for exposition. However, when Naina makes it clear that not everyone wants to give up their lives for the country, that some people just want to make a living and provide for their families, she does provide a well-rounded argument towards the general outlook of the film. That luxury of opinion, or of having one, is taken a step forward when it comes to the female characters in Pathaan.

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But Is This Enough?

It does make me wonder though – is there really more space for women in action films? The story arc was given to Deepika after all, one of the most dominating figures in the Hindi film industry at this point. Would it have been possible for an actress who might have a chip in her shoulder to be offered a role like this?

Does the writer think twice about the bankability of the actor before writing in that extra dialogue, perhaps an extra scene? Even though it is a welcome change in the YRF Spy Universe, which is known for the one-dimensionality and overall uselessness of its female characters, there is still a lot to be desired.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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