June 18, 2024
Jawan - Review of the socially charged thriller.


An era-defining opening sequence. An injured soldier recovers somewhere near India’s northern frontiers. People are shot, stabbed, and drowned in a creek in the peaceful and friendly community where he is performing CPR. The soldier ascends like a messiah and descends with a spear under a rumbling sky. It’s understandable why Japanese video game creator Hideo Kojima couldn’t control his excitement on social media. Jawan is actually the most Metal Gear-like Shah Rukh Khan movie, as strange as it may sound.

Since 2019, Tamil director Atlee has teased a movie starring Khan. It’s not the first time a well-known southern director has collaborated with a well-known Bollywood actor on an action movie with contentious sociopolitical issues (Atlee’s guru, Shankar, perhaps paved the path). However, there may be more to this collaboration than first appears. Atlee’s characters frequently use aliases and duplicates. Vijay in Theri and Vijay in Mersaland Bigil both have several identities concealed within a single body. Notably, the final two movies featured complex, twisting stories based on fathers and sons. All of this cries out for Khan, who, together with Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar, is the biggest draw for multi-role films in Hindi cinema.

Hindi for Jawan

  • Animator: Atlee
  • Cast: Deepika Padukone, Sanya Malhotra, Vijay Sethupathi, Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Priyamani, and Sunil Grover
  • 165 minutes total runtime
  • Story: As past and present thrillingly intersect, a vigilante and his gang battle dishonest organizations while sleeping with a lethal arms dealer.

After that spectacular beginning, 30 years later, we catch up with Khan, who is now portraying a silly, wisecracking vigilante in Mumbai who has his head shaved. A group of female combatants, the majority of whom have names and some of them are exceptional, support him. Alia, a passenger on the train, is the daughter of Kaalie, a dead-eyed guns dealer (Vijay Sethupathi sporting a terrible beard).

I won’t say how many Shah Rukh Khans you get in Jawan, but there are enough for the cost of a single ticket. Khan, 57, is an entertainer at heart, but 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 he can no longer commit to full villainy, which is the price of being a successful megastar. He grins, more in self-regard than as a threat, “When I become a villain, the heroes don’t stand a chance.” Jawan tests the limits of its star’s versatility even though it isn’t a morally complicated or problematic movie like Fan or Baazigar.

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. 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 started 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.

Jawan is a film that adores other films as well. Fans of Bollywood and Hollywood will enjoy playing spot the Reference. 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).

Not all objects fly. In the second half, there is an uptick in Atlee-style melodrama. However, Vijay Sethupathi really lets loose and is hilarious in the later sequences. Nayanthara performs her customary heroine role deftly, acting less enamored with Khan than the script calls for. But the crowd is completely enamored.

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.

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