Table of Contents
The opening scene from Atlee’s movie jawan is one for the ages. A wounded soldier makes a full recovery somewhere along India’s northern frontiers. He is performing CPR in a hostile and picturesque community where people have been shot, stabbed, and drowned in a brook. As the sky rumbles, the soldier ascends like a messiah and descends with a spear. His face is still covered in gauze, so we can’t see it, but his eyes tell us everything. The staging is magnificent, mythical, and surrounded by gloom.
A blazing horse may be seen darting across the screen as well. It makes sense why Hideo Kojima, a Japanese video game designer, couldn’t contain his joy on social media. Jawan is, despite what it may sound like, the Shah Rukh Khan movie that most closely resembles Metal Gear.
Since 2019, Tamil filmmaker Atlee has been hinting towards a movie starring Khan. It’s not the first time a seasoned southern director and a well-known Bollywood actor have collaborated on an action movie with contentious sociopolitical issues (Atlee’s guru, Shankar, perhaps paved the path). But there might be more to this partnership than first appears. The characters of Atlee frequently have aliases and doubles.
Vijay in Theri was hiding his various identities in one body, whilst Vijay in Mersaland Bigil was hiding them in multiple bodies. Notably, the latter two movies were complex, convoluted father-and-son dramas. All of this cries out for Khan, who is Hindi cinema’s biggest magnet for multi-role films, only being surpassed by Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar.
Atlee’s Jawan (Hindi)
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Vijay Sethupathi, Deepika Padukone, Sanya Malhotra, Priyamani, Sunil Grover
Run-time: 165 minutes
Storyline: A vigilante and his crew take on corrupt institutions in bed with a deadly arms dealer as past and present thrillingly collide
After that spectacular beginning, 30 years later, we catch up with Khan as he hijacks a Mumbai metro train while portraying a silly, wisecracking vigilante with a shaved head. He is supported by a group of female warriors, the most of whom have names and some of whom are elite, have backstories. Alia, the daughter of a dead-eyed arms dealer named Kaalie (Vijay Sethupathi sporting a terrible beard), is also traveling on the train.
Spoilers ahead: It will soon be discovered that Azad Rathod, the warden of a high-security female prison and part-time ethical terrorist, is actually Khan in the current era. The fearless negotiator Narmada (Nayanthara), whom Azad was singing pleas to while spearheading the hijack, is also the bride-to-be.
There are enough Shah Rukh Khans for the cost of one ticket, but I won’t say exactly how many you receive in Jawan. Khan,57, is mostly an entertainer, yet his best performances throughout the years have been marked by brief bursts of menace and malice.
He turns to his quasi-antihero avatar with great relish because, as the price of being a successful megastar, he can no longer commit to being an outright evil. He smiles, more in self-regard than as a threat, “When I become a villain, the heroes don’t stand a chance.” Although Jawan isn’t as ethically complicated or hard as Fan or Baazigar, it nonetheless pushes the boundaries of its star’s acting abilities. Khan is a good, upright, and ideal citizen. Khan is a grizzled, cigar-chomping, Wolverine-like character.
Jawan’s action is as skillfully convincing as you’d anticipate from a high-end Atlee production. The director plunders the whole library of Hollywood-style action movies for drones, helicopters, and gatling guns. Apart from some slick hops and kicks by Khan, what really sells these set pieces are the smudges of Indianness painted throughout the vast canvas.
The thought of one of the hijackers driving away from the site of the crime thrilled me. Or perhaps a flashback in which Deepika Padukone (in a significant cameo) slams Khan in the mud. Atlee bases his action on urgent social justice rage, exactly like in his previous movies. Khan starts his own Clean India campaign, attacking corrupt institutions one by one, starting with agriculture and moving on to healthcare and (in a more tactful and courteous manner) defense.The term “deshdrohi” (traitor) is applied to at least three different characters as the movie repeatedly emphasizes how pernicious such accusations are.
Jawan is another film that is infatuated with previous films. Fans of Bollywood and Hollywood will enjoy playing spot the reference. Khan’s vigilante includes hints of The Joker, Darkman, and even Dennis Hopper from Speed before his eventual goal is revealed. Given that Kaali is trying to undermine the system, I think it’s a clever idea for him to literally hand out red and blue tablets.
A Russian crime boss wearing the Bane mask appears. The best allusions, like in Pathaan, are to Khan’s own filmography. Kaveri Amma is the name of the adopted mother of Azad (Riddhi Dogra), and Khan’s adoptive mother in Swades (2004). Similar nods are made to Duplicate, Main Hoon Na, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, and—perhaps most aptly—these films.
Not all things fly. The second half features an increase of Atlee-style melodrama. Even with Anirudh Ravichander’s best efforts, the songs sound unoriginal (the forgettable Arijit Singh song “Chaleya” has a better Arabic rendition on YouTube). But in the latter sequences, Vijay Sethupathi really lets loose and is hilarious. In contrast to how the movie would have her fall in love with Khan, Nayanthara coolly underplays the role of the stereotypical heroine. But the audience is completely enthralled.
Khan makes a passionate statement about democracy and the value of one vote near the end. Everyone listened in astonished unanimity, even in these divisive times. One Shah Rukh Khan, one nation, and one emotion.
jawan is currently running in theatres