Directed by: Atlee
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Vijay Sethupathi
Rating: 3/5 stars
In 2007, Shah Rukh Khan led 16 young girls to cinematic hockey glory, empowering them and in the process, clearing his own name that had been besmirched with the tag of ‘traitor’. Chak De! India is a cult classic that is often counted among Shah Rukh’s best films.
Sixteen years later, in 2023, Shah Rukh becomes the leader of an all-girls team (only six as opposed to 16), empowering them and in the process, clearing his father’s name that had been besmirched with the tag of ‘traitor’. Jawan, his latest release, is all set to become a mega blockbuster, certain to be counted among the Bollywood superstar’s most significant movies.
Of course, the parallels between Chak De! India and Jawan end right there. In terms of treatment and scale, they are poles apart. Jawan sees SRK in action mode, almost as if his earlier film Pathaan consumed a year’s supply of steroids. It’s a superstar vehicle that celebrates the charm and enduring appeal of Khan and on that metric, it succeeds wildly. He is a joy to watch.
Add to that, a load of meta references to past movies and real-life controversies, a strong message, popular South Indian stars, a powerful sprinkling of politics, some surprise cameos, and you have the recipe for the perfect masala Bollywood film, a genre that the actor seems to be hell-bent on reviving.
After a spectacular opening scene set somewhere on the border area, where an old amnesiac Shah Rukh rescues a group of villagers from villains and asks, "Who am I?", only to be greeted with his full name on screen followed by the credits, the action shifts to the hijacking of a local train in Mumbai. SRK once again appears, this time with six female badass aides and starts blackmailing the government. Unlike other hijackers, his demands are not personal, they are all meant for the greater common good. Turns out he is a modern-day Robinhood named Azad, in charge of a weird women’s prison with high-tech machinery that looks like Professor’s set in Money Heist.
This premise is all that you need to know about the plot of the film. From here on, it’s a ride that sees too many elements stuffed in too small a box --- a hectic, inexplicable romance between Shah Rukh and Nayanthara (playing a glamorous cop), a precocious child, father and son moments, a long flashback and a mean villain who is the epitome of all evil.
Do they all work? Individually, not by a mile. The SRK-Nayanthara love story has no chemistry while emotional and romantic scenes appear more like breaks between the next action set piece. The back stories --- of Khan’s team members as well as his own --- lack punch or emotion. But overall, the package compels you to accept the film's undeniable entertainment appeal.
Jawan is the sort of film where everyone walks in slo-mo to Anirudh Ravichander’s thunderous music. It’s also the film where your disbelief should not just be suspended but completely banished. Do not ask questions or even wonder ‘how do these things happen?’ You need to just surrender as one unbelievable sequence after another unfolds, often without a shred of logic (sample this: a doctor checks the pulse of a character and announces she’s pregnant).
What makes it a cut above the rest is the politics. A number of issues take centrestage --- farmer’s suicides, environmental degradation, crumbling healthcare, businessmen influencing elections and faulty governance. And then there is the monologue to watch out for --- it’s not Azad but Shah Rukh Khan making a fervent appeal to ask the right questions to your leaders.
Wish the same attention had been given to character arcs as well. Nayanthara is a force to reckon with in Tollywood but here, her emoting skills leave a lot to be desired. The supporting actors, from Sanya Malhotra, Priyamani, Riddhi Dogra to even Sunil Grover simply fill in the blanks, none of them making an impact. Vijay Sethupathi, the powerhouse actor, is actually disappointing as the antagonist, not oozing the menace expected to match Shah Rukh’s 360-degree cool quotient.
Revenge --- personal and social --- is the central theme in Jawan and while that is a tried-and-tested trope, director Atlee gives it the ultra-stylised Tollywood-meets-Bollywood treatment. It may have crater-sized holes as far as logic is concerned but what it has in oodles is Shah Rukh Khan. And that’s not bad news at all. Also, there are two fabulous cameos featuring A-listers, and a juicy possibility mentioned in the end credits. If you have the patience, wait for it.