All you need to know about 'Jawan', Shah Rukh Khan's artfully crafted North-South ensemble

King Khan has attempted a truly cross-industry collaborative film

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By Yasser Usman

Published: Thu 7 Sep 2023, 6:23 PM

Touted as the biggest pan-India film of the year, Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan has hit the screens igniting a frenzy among fans across the globe. Right from the day its teaser dropped, buoyed by the feverish excitement surrounding the action-packed trailer, the thriller was expected to set the box-office on fire. Film trade experts believe its performance is crucial to prove that Pathaan’s mammoth success was not a fluke. But more importantly, amidst the fervour surrounding Jawan, we might be overlooking Shah Rukh’s true masterstroke with this film.

With Jawan, King Khan has attempted a truly cross-industry collaborative film. Shah Rukh, apart from being the biggest superstar of India, is also known for his innovative marketing strategies. Would you believe if I say that Khan’s home production Jawan can also be categorised as a Tamil film? Let me explain.

Jawan is produced by a Bollywood producer with the nation’s most prominent Bollywood star as the protagonist, but it is directed by Atlee, one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the Tamil industry. Shah Rukh Khan has enlisted two of the biggest stars down south — Nayanthara as the lead actress and Vijay Sethupathi as the lead antagonist. The posters and promos of Jawan proudly declare it as ‘An Anirudh Musical’. Presently, Anirudh stands as one of the foremost composers in the Southern film industry. Additionally, the film features popular Tamil actor Yogi Babu, and there are reports suggesting a cameo appearance by Tamil superstar, Thalapathy Vijay. Many members of the crew are also from the Tamil film industry. This is what I mean when I say that Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan has been placed in a Tamil film universe.

It is an exceptionally astute manoeuvre, especially considering it is Shah Rukh’s most expensive film ever. He has spared no effort in orchestrating a beginning that holds the potential to pave the way for numerous successful North-South collaborations, ultimately culminating in the creation of what could be termed as truly ‘Indian cinema’. It was also obvious when he opted for Chennai as the location for Jawan’s audio launch. The way he conveyed his gratitude to the artistes from the Tamil film industry who contributed to Jawan and the grand welcome he received should be observed to fully grasp its significance.

We need to understand what the thought behind this mega collaboration with the South could be. While this year has brought about significant successes for Hindi cinema, until last year, South Indian (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam) cinema appeared to overshadow the Hindi film industry a.k.a. Bollywood. With many big-budget films of superstars (Laal Singh Chadha, Shamshera, Ram Setu) tanking, it was a common perception that Hindi cinema couldn’t go back to its glorious days. At the same time, multiple Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films like RRR, KGF2, and Kantara became huge successes, drawing audiences to theatres even in Hindi-speaking regions. Actors like Ram Charan, Prabhas, Yash, Thalapathy Vijay, and Vijay Sethupathi became well-known stars in the Hindi circuit. According to a study cited by Forbes India, South India emerged as the new powerhouse of Indian cinema. In 2021, a substantial 62 per cent of the overall box-office earnings were attributed to South Indian movies. Remarkably, in 2022, not a single Hindi film managed to secure a position among the top five highest-grossing domestic films.

Right at the moment when the future of Hindi cinema appeared gloomy and disheartening, Shah Rukh Khan orchestrated a triumphant comeback, and Pathaan created history. What Pathaan also did was to put a brake on this whole ‘south wave’ perception. The success of Pathaan was truly a game-changer. It was followed by many hit films this year restoring normalcy in Bollywood, which had been grappling with uncertainties following the pandemic and the Southern onslaught. Surprisingly, this year, no significant film from the south has found success at the Bollywood box office.

At the peak of Southern cinema’s dominance and his own films being rejected by the audiences, Shah Rukh planned Jawan, bringing Atlee as the director. This is precisely what magnifies the importance of Shah Rukh’s collaborative strategy in preserving the significance of Hindi films across the nation. More such collaborations followed. If you remember, Bollywood superstar, Salman Khan appeared in a crucial action-packed cameo in the Telugu film Godfather (2022) starring the Telugu icon Chiranjeevi in the lead role. The film flopped but the collaboration between two megastars of equal stature from different regions was much talked about. Now, Ranbir Kapoor’s highly anticipated film Animal is also striving to amalgamate the sensibilities of both Bollywood and the Telugu film industry. Directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, it boasts a distinctive ensemble cast and crew comprising top talents from both the industries.

Trade analysts contend that Jawan is both a South Indian movie as well as a true pan-India film and has the potential to establish a fresh market for Hindi cinema in the southern regions. With Vijay Sethupati in a strong negative role opposite Shah Rukh Khan, a blockbuster opening is guaranteed. If it attains huge commercial success, it’s highly likely there will be consistent collaborations between Bollywood and South Indian film industries for high-budget productions. Without a doubt, this experiment will leave an indelible mark on the entire spectrum of mainstream cinematic expression. I hope it would also contribute to blurring the distinction between a Hindi national star and a South Indian star, and as SRK prompts in Jawan —


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