Jawan, directed by Atlee, attempts to blend the superstardom of Shah Rukh Khan while throwing in some social messaging between heavily stylized and ultra violent action sequences. If paying devotional homage to its hero’s machismo though exaggerated drama and a collage of playing-to-the-gallery set pieces qualifies as entertianment, then the film religiously ticks all the right boxes to make for a massy experience. Especially for Shah Rukh’s fans, who are bound to be more than satisfied. Otherwise, the filmmaker does little to stretch or go beyond the boundaries of conventional mainstream cinema barring an odd moment here and there.
The film begins with the discovery of the body of a man (Shah Rukh Khan) floating on a river somewhere in North East India. The injured man is rescued and taken to a local medical practitioner. As he recovers from his wounds, he saves the village from an attack by murderous infiltrators. The story now cuts to thirty years later. A metro train heading towards Chakala in Mumbai is hijacked by a vigilante (Shah Rukh Khan again) and his team of six women helpers. He demands a huge sum of money from a businessman, Kaalie Gaikwad (Vijay Sethupathi), whose daughter is also on the train. After the group accomplishes its mission, we discover that the six women are prisoners in a jail whose jailer, Azaad Rathore, the vigilante. A few days later, Azad meets Narmada Rai (Nayanthara), the officer from the NSG who was the negotiator during the metro hijack. Both of them fall in love with one another and get married to one another. On the night of their wedding, she discovers the truth about Azaad…
Jawan strengthens Atlee reputation as a whistle-inducing and hyperbolic director. He keeps moving the film between high octane action scenes and saccharine-rich emotional ones that are meant to tug at our heartstrings. Throughout the film, the two strands follow one another in quick succession, as if we’re scrolling through an Instagram reel for instant gratification. Borrowing heavily from Southern mainstream cinema of the last few years that have managed to break pan-India boundaries through their judicious mixing of larger then life masala mix, Atlee creates a film that gives SRK fans enough clap-worthy moments right from his introduction scene to a cracker of an interval point. When he utters the dialogue, “Bete Ko Haath Lagane Se Pehle, Baap Se Baat Kar” (Before laying a hand on the son, speak to the father first) at the end of the film, he brings the house down slyly reminding us of what Aryan Khan went through.
In some ways, Jawan could be called a brave and even much needed anti-establishment film in today’s political climate. Amid all the adulation for its superman hero, the film touches upon various issues plaguing the country. So we have a nod to farmer suicides, medical corruption, government negligence and most importantly, how crony capitalists are controlling the political reign of the nation. In his final monologue, Azaad even breaks the fourth wall and instructs us, the audience, to rise up against the oppressive system and vote for a political party sensibly and not on the basis of cast, creed or religion. The prison where Azaad works as a jailer is filled with women prisoners who have been wronged by the system. The team of six women (chosen carefully from different backgrounds) include Kalki (Lehar Khan), who has killed a bank official because the latter has humiliated her farmer father (Omkar Das Manikpuri) leading him to commit suicide. Dr Eeram (Sanya Malhotra), based on the real-life character of Dr Kafeel Khan, has been framed by the authorities for the deaths of children due to a lack of oxygen cylinders in the hospital. But unlike his mentor Shankar’s Indian (1996) and Anniyan (2005), Atlee fails to interweave these issues convincingly with a minimum level of logic or sensibility. They appear to be forcefully shoved in to mix social consciousness within the entertainment. It is here that the film bites far more than it can chew, trying to put in far too many tracks and subplots and not really doing enough service to any. To call it a political film would stretching things too far.
Shah Rukh Khan shoulders the entire weight of the overdramatized script with vim, vigour and panache, enjoying himself thoroughly. You can’t help but wonder if his character is called Azaad in an ode to Dilip Kumar, who SRK admires and who played a desi Robin Hood in Azaad (1955). Vijay Sethupathi, surprisingly, lacks the expected menacing presence you expect from him as the film’s antagonist. By naming him Kaalie Gaikwad, is Atlee invoking another famous Gaikwad in Tamil cinema who played Kaala on-screen? Though a cameo, Deepika Padukone is the most well-etched female character in the film. And she brings grace, elegance, and depth to the character. Nayathara is photographed well and makes the most of some touching emotional moments and well-choreographed action scenes. However, her character lacks sufficient fleshing out thereby diluting her Hindi film debut. The rest of the supporting cast play their parts efficiently.
Atlee’s long time collaborators, GK Vishnu (cinematography) and Ruben (editing), ensure the film remains at full throttle. always keeping in mind the kind of audience the film is meant to cater to. The background score of the film by Anirudh does not pause for a single moment to keep pumping up our excitement and lifting the film a notch or two. But he lets the film down with the disappointingly mediocre soundtrack.
Ultimately, Jawan is a star vehicle meant first and foremost to provide a wild ride for the King Khan’s fanbase. In that it succeeds by leaps and bounds. As a film though, it lacks coherence and leaves much to be desired. In playing up to its hero above everything else, it ensures that SRK is both – the film’s biggest strength and its prime weakness as well.
Hindi, Action, Drama, Color