‘Jawan’ Review: Shah Rukh Khan’s Most Political Movie Till Date Shows Why He Is The King Of The Masses


Shah Rukh Khan’s signature pose is where he opens his arms, tweaks his leg a little, and gives a smile that can melt the coldest hearts. Someone said that when he does that, he isn’t just posing; he is embracing all those who love him without any inhibition. Now, during the phase that led to his brief disappearance from the big screen, this equation between the audience and the superstar became iffy. He was figuring things out, we were figuring things out. It was a mess. When he made his big, bombastic return with Pathaan, it seemed like there was a little apprehension, as nobody really knew whether Khan would be accepted again. But as soon as the masses celebrated him like he had never left, the attitude changed by several degrees. And that change is palpable in every second of Jawan, which feels like a truly unabashed Shah Rukh Khan party where every facet of the King of Bollywood is put on display and appreciated without any form of reluctance.

Atlee’s Jawan, which he has co-written with Sumit Arora and S. Ramanagirivasan, opens in the 80s as a wounded Vikram Rathore is rescued from the river and taken to a nondescript but clearly North Eastern village. The local healer slathers him with all kinds of organic medicine, wraps him up in bandages, and then just hopes that he’s going to make a full recovery. One day, this village is attacked by armed goons, and, against all odds, Rathore wakes up from his slumber, slays the attackers, and essentially becomes the protector of the village. However, due to an injury to his head, he doesn’t exactly remember his past, and hence, he doesn’t know who he is. The narrative jumps forward in time by 30 years, where a metro train in Mumbai is hijacked by a group of girls—Kalki, Janvi, Helana, Eeram, and Lakshmi—who plan to detonate a bomb if their terms aren’t met. And the one leading this gang is Vikram Rathore. They have knowingly cornered the daughter of the industrialist Kalee so that they can force him to force the agriculture minister to forgive the loans of the dying farmers. But that’s just the beginning, as their ultimate plan is to wake the nation up from the slumber they’ve been put into by the elected leaders of India.

Atlee, Arora, and Ramanagirivasan are really blunt and aggressive with their politics. When they want to talk about farmer suicides, they talk about farmer suicides. If they want to talk about the corruption happening in the health sector, they explicitly state that the country needs restructuring on a granular level. If they want to state that, despite all the chest-thumping we do to celebrate the soldiers of our country, those in charge of equipping them with the latest weapons are fooling them, they say it and even give the characters and the audience a demo. And when they want to talk about how the Indian populace forgets about who they’ve elected after electing them because their mind is too occupied by the daily rush to earn peanuts, guess what they do? Yes, they say it quite directly to our faces. Maybe in a different time or in an alternate universe where political films weren’t majoritarian propaganda, and they actually punched up while representing the voice of the public, I wouldn’t have appreciated Jawan’s style of commentary. But the state of Bollywood is the exact opposite of that, and it’s actually incredibly rare for a movie like this to exist in this space. So, I have to appreciate it because the writers are saying what we are thinking. They are venting our frustrations. They are making their characters do the impossible things that we hope we can do. In addition to all that, they are telling us that we don’t need to be anti-heroes like Shah Rukh Khan’s characters to fight casteism, systemic oppression, unemployment, and every kind of human rights violation because the power our vote possesses is more than enough.

It’s true that Jawan is a collage of many movies with similar themes and tropes. But, at the cost of sounding repetitive, think about when they were released, the kind of backlash they faced from political (and maybe religious) outfits, and how that behavior has increased exponentially. If you try to re-release those films to celebrate their cultural relevance, there’s a good chance it’ll be met with artificial outrage. So, I don’t mind if Atlee and his team are taking elements from older films, mixing them with his own movies, and delivering a package that is timely and relevant as hell. Apart from that, this is probably the only Atlee film where the female characters play an active part in the plot instead of in a posthumous way. Yes, some of them do bite the dust, but one of the deaths is due to a conspiracy, and the other occurs when one of them is trying to protect one of the female leads. And if you have seen any of Atlee’s previous films, this is a huge improvement. That said, they’re still pretty underwritten. The same can be said about Kalee, but here’s the thing: even though it seems like Kalee has no depth, it’s what he represents that makes him scary. He is a proxy for every government-backed industrialist who is making money off the backs of the middle and lower classes while literally sucking the nation dry. He is a reminder that while we suffer for the smallest of mistakes, people like Kalee get away after conducting fraud on a national—maybe even international—level. But do you know what’s the most horrifying part? A villain like Kalee gets his comeuppance, while his real-life counterparts continue to live lavishly at our expense. Does he seem generic anymore?

Jawan is a visual fest, thanks to Atlee, G.K. Vishnu, Antony L. Ruben, Muthuraj, and the work done by the art direction, costume design, special effects, visual effects, and stunt departments. The first time that Shah Rukh Khan appeared on screen, I was confused if I was shaking or if the theater was shaking because of the hooting, cheering, and applause. The decrepit hospital section is amazing. It takes place at night, but you can clearly see what’s going on, which is something that Hollywood can learn from Bollywood. Shah Rukh Khan’s second entry again had me confused because this time, I was hooting, cheering, and applauding harder than the rest of the theater. Whoever came up with the idea of making the older Shah Rukh Khan character look like a mashup of Amitabh Bachchan from Deewar and Clint Eastwood from A Fistful of Dollars definitely deserves a raise. The people who deserve something more are the ones who conceptualized and executed the highway sequence and let Shah Rukh Khan light his cigar with the sparks of fire emanating from the metallic heel of his shoe while rotating his bike on the highway in slow motion. I think I lost my mind when I saw that. How can you not be impressed by that?! The songs are good, especially the melancholic ones. Anirudh Ravichander’s score is playing in my mind as I write this sentence, and that’s a compliment. The pacing is amazing because it totally didn’t feel like a nearly 3-hour-long film. And a big kudos to Atlee for giving us a Shah Rukh Khan monologue that rivals the one from Chak De! India.

When it comes to the performances, everyone is great. Nayanthara is so elegant, strong, and explosive when she needs to be. She holds her own during the action sequences. Out of the supporting cast, Sanya Malhotra is the one who gets the most screen time, and she utilizes it to make us sob. The other person who will make you shed a tear is Deepika Padukone. Yes, her role is restricted to that of a typical Bollywood mom, but she gives a performance that is right up there with Rakhee and Nirupa Roy. So, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. The rest of the cast are great. Sanjay Dutt’s cameo is fantastic. Is this one of Vijay Sethupathi’s best performances? No, I don’t think so. But the thing about Vijay Sethupathi is that even if he sleepwalks through a villainous role, it’s going to pack a punch. His chemistry with his co-stars will be palpable. He’ll be imposing enough to make you hope that you don’t come across this character in your life. And all those aspects are present in Kalee. Hence, there are no major complaints. As for the rest of the cast, even the hostages on the train or the politicians who are tormented, they get the job done despite their limited screen time.

As mentioned before, though, this is a Shah Rukh Khan party, and his swagger, his warmth, his comic timing, and his penchant for pulling off complex stunts are on full display. It’s easy to write him off as a superstar who depends on his mannerisms to get through his scenes. But this is a proper actor who has studied under Barry John, and you can clearly see that in his monologue. He is riveting. He is captivating. It genuinely feels like he is drawing from some deep-seated emotions so that he can get his message across to the public—the reel and the real one. Even though he gets to romance Nayanthara and Deepika Padukone for a very short amount of time, you can feel the chemistry. What’s the reason for the briefness of these romances? Old Man Shah Rukh Khan. He gets to hog the limelight, and deservedly so. I don’t think I have enough words to explain how much fun Khan is having while playing the older Vikram Rathore. He is—as the kids nowadays like to say—lost in the sauce, something that is illustrated by the use of songs to control the flow of a beatdown. There’s something so effortless and laid-back about his body language as that particular character that it makes you wonder when we’ll get to see more of him. In addition to all that, the VFX around the two Shah Rukh Khans is so casual that it is mind-boggling. The two characters interact like two people would actually interact. However, there are no weird glitches or traces of the use of a green screen. It’s seamless. It’s worthy of all the visual effects awards in the world.

In conclusion—and I’ll keep this relatively short because I’ve already said a lot—Jawan is one of the best movies of the year. Atlee and his team have delivered, and how. Shah Rukh Khan absolutely rules. That’s it. Go to the theater right now and watch Jawan. Once you are done screaming your lungs out, try and listen to what the movie is trying to say, form your opinion, and don’t just share it with us, but also make sure that you turn it into a positive and productive deed in real life. Messiahs only exist in movies and shows. Those who claim to be one in real life are actually frauds. Since they are very loud, it’s difficult to ignore them. So, listen to them, see everything through an educated lens, and then prioritize your rights as a human being. It won’t yield immediate solutions because the elected representatives that we’ve deified have done a lot of damage. However, we need to take the first step towards healing because those in power never will, and they’re counting on us to not realize our potential. It’s about time we proved them wrong.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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