‘Be it Khan highlighting the issues with a rigged system, or schooling accountability from the government, or stressing the power of the vote, or that baap/beta line — this is a kind of swashbuckling that Hindi film audiences haven’t seen from their heroes for many years,’ notes Mayur Sanap.
Shah Rukh Khan lights up the silver screen in his second outing this year, Jawan.
And one thing is loud and clear — there is no match to his magnetic screen presence and his enduring superstardom.
His no-holds-barred action hero avatar, his commitment to play for the gallery, and his bold social/political commentary is what we witness in Tamil hit-maker Atlee’s almost perfectly packaged mass entertainer.
This is a reinvention of the Bollywood superstar shaped by the sensibilities of a southern film-maker. And this is almost reason enough to give Jawan a try.
But the reason I said ‘almost’ is because of the fact that besides Atlee’s hero-worshiping skills and Khan’s irresistible charm, there is very little in Jawan that will grab your attention. For the most part, it is this over-saturated, haphazardly-plotted drama that knocks off every hit formula from Atlee;s previous films.
Some of this works until it doesn’t.
The film opens on an exhilarating note.
Much like Pathaan, here too, we first see SRK when he is battered, wounded, and completely broken. We don’t see his face, but the wounds on his body give us a sense that this man has endured a lot.
A violent rumpus follows and SRK rises as a messiah figure in a ‘mass’ scene that’s designed to make the audiences go amok.
As Anirudh’s pulsating background score kicks in, we see our hero’s face being slowly revealed against the flared up bandage. I heard someone instantly cheering in my packed hall, “Paisa Vasool!“
This is pure Atlee magic at play.
This is also the most distinctive introductory shot for a Hindi hero, and it is delightful to see the way SRK submits himself to Atlee’s flamboyant vision. He is the director who understands the syntax and grammar of mass film-making, and his proven track record with Thalapathy Vijay is a testimony of his know-how.
In this superbly staged sequence of Jawan, Atlee showcases his knack for using the star power to generate euphoric reactions.
For a Tamil film-maker venturing into Hindi space, it is his intro as much as it is of SRK’s.
The impressive opening sets the ball rolling as the story moves 30 years ahead.
We are introduced to a vigilante named Azad (Shah Rukh), who is on a mission against the corrupt system. His well-orchestrated plans are assisted by six women, each one with a grief-stricken past.
Their ultimate plan is take down ruthless arms dealer Kaali Gaikwad (at this point, who else but Vijay Sethupathi), with whom Azad’s personal history is tied up.
As the group continues to go about their activities, police officer Narmada Rai (Nayanthara) takes the charge to nab Azad and his gang. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game that leads to an old-fashioned good versus evil flick.
The major highlight of Jawan is the way Atlee has designed the mass scenes which he gets right with much gusto. His screenplay, which he co-wrote with S Ramanagirivasan, welds a political message onto a massy actioner with subtext and metaness related to SRK.
Be it Khan highlighting the issues with a rigged system, or schooling accountability from the government, or stressing the power of the vote, or that baap/beta line — this is a kind of swashbuckling that Hindi film audiences haven’t seen from their heroes for many years.
But the film whimpers when the jarring emotional beats and scattered focus bare the blemishes in its writing. The messaging is well-intentioned but is presented in a manner that’s too on-the-nose.
Compare this to Kamal Haasan’s Indian or Vikram’s Anniyan (Aparichit) or even Hugo Weaving’s V for Vendetta. There is an emotional urgency in those vigilante-on-mission stories.
Here, the narrative is stuffed with amped-up emotions that feel more designed than earned.
As the story progresses, Atlee becomes clueless about what to do with the women in the film, so they are reduced to mere props.
This includes the mighty Nayanthara and the ever reliable Priyamani.
The hammy approach dilutes the impact when the film takes us through backstory of Sanya Malhotra’s ‘disgraced’ doctor, or Leher Khan’s broken daughter of a dead farmer. It’s sad, because the ensemble is so terrific that I wish the writing had more heft to live up to their talent.
Nayanthara’s Narmada is a single mother who falls in love with the mysterious Azad but this romantic track is not given any breathing space to flourish. Even in her supercop avatar, she comes across as a personality with a collection of character traits rather than a fully-realised character.
Deepika Padukone appears in a long-ish flashback sequence and owns the screen with her luminous presence. Hers is the only effective performance after Shah Rukh.
The weakest link is Vijay Sethupathi as the film’s antagonist, who is otherwise such a delightful performer. His guileful, sweet-talking Kaali is cut from the same cloth as Master and Vikram, and each scene that he appears in gives a feeling of déjà vu.
The second half is fixed upon the hero verus villain dynamic, but the film lags in these key moments because of Sethupathi’s monotonous performance. It is high time Sethupathi does away with villain roles, or at least try to bring something new to them.
Despite some gripes, Jawan works because of Atlee’s total commitment to creating Shah Rukh Khan hysteria. It is filled with everything signature to the superstar.
Every time he is on screen, Jawan truly comes alive.
In a rare occurrence in Hindi cinema, the mass art goes political and makes a statement. These moments, at least, are total whistle podu.
Take the rest with a pinch of salt.
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