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Jawan movie review: Shah Rukh Khan delivers pop banger

Combining the in-your-face maximalism of director Atlee, and the come-get-me grizzled slit-eyed sexiness of star Shah Rukh Khan, Jawan is a pop-masala banger: iss kahani mein action hai, emotion hai, hero hai, villain hai, aur naach-gaana hai, aur kya chahiye? Actually, there is more: fashioned as an unabashed massy entertainer, Jawan slips in strong political messaging at every opportunity, making it a film which is very much of the moment.

Anyone familiar with the previous smash-hits of Atlee, who understudied with Shankar, will know how much he loves going big, and giving us family dramas doused in sentiment. ‘Jawan’ has two SRKs for the price of one, separated by thirty years in time, but united in single-minded Mera-Bharat-Mahaan patriotism: the older one is an army man called Vikram Rathore who, after displaying exemplary valour in the face of certain death, bides his time in the shadows; the younger, who goes by the name of Azad, is a Robin Hood type with a thing for disguise, whose main job is to rob the rich to help the poor.

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To this end, ‘Jawan’ has a veritable list of those hapless Indians that the ‘system’ has trampled upon: poverty-stricken farmers who commit suicide, the sick who die in badly-run government hospitals, the soldiers who lose their lives because of faulty guns — the citizens who are powerless and helpless because those in power are corrupt and venal. There’s nothing new in the conflict that the story sets up; we’ve seen variations of it, and the vigilante-forced-into-taking-on-the-bad-guys in scores of movies. What lifts ‘Jawan’s pushback against the ‘system’ is the cockiness, and knowingness with which it goes about the whole: Azad’s collaborators are a bunch of young women (Priyamani, Sanya Malhotra, among others) who help him pull off a series of wholly-improbable-but-enjoyable heists. Their presence gives the plot an excuse to turn the screen over to girl-power, and for SRK to drawl (reminding you a bit of Vijay in Atlee’s previous ‘Bigil’, in which he plays coach to an all-girl football team): are you ready, girls? It’s also a fun throwback to one of SRK’s most beloved films, ‘Chak De, India’. My first-day-first-day show erupted in hoots and cheers.

Both Nayanthara playing Azad’s love interest, and Deepika Padukone, paired opposite SRK Sr, hold the eye when they are around, the latter leaving more impact than the former. There’s also a little girl, cutesy but sweet, to aim at our heart-strings. You can see how much fun the writers have had to bring back certain names in other classic SRK films (Kaveri Amma from ‘Swades’), as well as actors who spark well with him (both Priyamani and Deepika were his able companions in his previous Southern sojourn in Rohit Shetty’s ‘Chennai Express’).

Vijay Sethupathi is the big bad wolf here, as a crooked arms dealer-cum-businessman, the kind of guy whose ill-gotten gains powers governments (ooh, now who is this character based on?). He’s always dressed in black, scowling and growling and being menacing, and in a couple of places, does manage to leave a mark. But even Sethupathi knows that this film is all about SRK, so in the rest of it he looks as if he is just going through the paces.

After a kinetic, zingy first hour, the film slumps in bits, especially when it dives into the part housed in a women’s prison, where all inmates are very stylishly dressed in pale green uniforms with nary a filthy corner to be seen, and the nobility starts becoming too much handle. A very young woman ( Dogra) is made to look middle-aged. My eyes started glazing over at the colourless songs-and-dances: not one stays with you when you leave the theatre.

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But then comes the last act, in which both SRK’s get together, and along with a big Bollywood star in a walk-on part playing an ‘I love Onam’ officer-with-a-Malayali-wife, bring the whole thing to a boil. It involves, gulp, truckloads of stolen EVM machines, and a sequence which is jaw-dropping in its audacity, given our polarised times, in which a superstar, so reviled in the last few years, buoyed only by the massive success of him appearing In and As ‘Pathaan’, in which he reclaims his identity loud and proud, exhorts us to use that finger for voting in the right person, ignoring jaat-paat-and-dharm. And that one also got the audience clapping.

Yes, as expected, the very meta ‘baap-beta’ line brought the house down. But Shah Rukh Khan extends that message, from his family to his watan, turning into the jawan-hero of India that is Bharat, and Bharat that is India.

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Jawan movie director – AtleeJawan movie cast – Shah Rukh Khan, Vijay Sethupathi, Nayanthara, Priyamani, Sanya Malhotra, Deepika Padukone, Sunil Grover, Riddhi DograJawan movie rating – 3.5 stars

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