Some are already proclaiming it to be the year of Pathaan. But it is the year of 50th birthdays. All the men I have found attractive and been secretly in one-sided lust with have turned 50: Ben Affleck, Idris Alba, Jude Law, Jean DuJardin, Arjun Rampal, and John Abraham. And all of them are having the time of their lives. Affleck is with Jennifer Lopez and Abraham is making a nation swoon over his boxer shorts, yet again. Only, things are bigger and better for both of them this time.
In this Pathaan party, John is the gin that nobody thought would make everyone giddy when Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone had painted the whole world in their besharam rang.
John Abraham And the Burden of Beauty
Beauty is a burden, and nobody knows it better than John. An exceptional face attached to a David-esque body became his biggest enemy in an industry that constantly wrote him off as inadequate. He once had "expressions of granite". From Jism to Pathaan, John has tried everything from romance to comedy to action to absurdity. He always fell short. Always a work in progress. Always interrupted, mostly by his extraordinary good looks.
Pathaan's nemesis, Jim, however, is a man rising from the ashes. He's every bit the guy Pathaan may secretly want to be: "our very best". Jim is the onscreen avatar of John Abraham, the film actor. The joy of watching John holding on his own against Shahrukh is almost divine. But his bigger feat is replacing Deepika as the object of desire in their scenes together. Yes, even heterosexual men in the theatre acknowledged his striking screen presence.
The difference here, however, is that it is easy to imagine Jim as a scarred, balding, and diminishing man. John's person, therefore, is a treat.
John Abraham As Villain
Has John Abraham found his mojo as an anti-hero? Perhaps. His characters have always had streaks of grey right from the beginning of his career. Yet, they weren't luminous enough to take focus away from his physical beauty. In his early films, all that was expected of him was to look good, and boy did he deliver! He became complacent. He played along. It was easy job to dress well and serve up his body and face.
With Madras Cafe, something changed. But then came Rocky Handsome, a pastiche that, yet again, fetishised John's body. In Ek Villain Returns, he was unbearable as the serial killer villain. Can we, then, conclude that John's strength lies in roles where it is easy to forget the character's sexual appeal? (The actor, however, won't let you forget his.)
Jim is a broken man, pieced together only by grief and revenge. This villain could be any man or woman. He has no ideology or allegiance. He operates on an amoral plane after his 'death'. It is as if he has acquired a new body, beyond the fetishes and fatigues of his previous life. It is not Jim's problem that he is still achingly beautiful. He's the betrayed lover that inspires sympathy and second chances. He cares for none.
Has John realised this truth about himself, too?
Pathaan And John Abraham Benefit Each Other
As a producer, John has been quite adventurous in exploring themes in the action film genre. Unfortunately, not all his endeavours have allowed him to work on his weaknesses. His smoulder needs to be used sparingly; his dialogues need to be less stilted; and his characters need a better story and not just be beautiful. John is every leading lady of 80s popular Hindi films. Always hyped and fetishised, never worked with or upon.
Shahrukh has been known to make his women shine. Whether it is Simran to his Raj or Tina/Anjali to his Rahul, there is a symbiotic relationship between him and the counterparts where everyone benefits.
It can be safely said that it is not Deepika but John that Shahrukh has been paired with in Pathaan. They bring out the best in each other. And as the divine writ goes, Satan is always more attractive than any competition. It is not for nothing that there are moments of doubt and fear and admiration stirred by Jim in even Pathaan.