Atlee combines message with mass in slick entertainer, relying largely on Shah Rukh Khan’s stardom

Atlee combines message with mass in slick entertainer, relying largely on Shah Rukh Khan’s stardom

Jawan movie review: Shah Rukh Khan delivers his second mass masala entertainer of the year and yet again succeeds to thrill.

Director: Atlee

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Vijay Sethupathi, Deepika Padukone, Sanya Malhotra, Priyamani, Sunil Grover, Ridhi Dogra, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, Lehar Khan, Aaliyah Qureishi

Where to watch: Theatres
Rating: 3.5 stars

When Shah Rukh Khan announced his return to screen after four years and then added that he was going to star in not one but three films in 2023, Jawan was the one I was looking forward to the most. After Pathaan’s bumper success, I was even more curious to see just how the actor will top that. Jawan lays to rest any remaining shred of doubt about Shah Rukh’s superstardom. It shows Pathaan was not a fluke and the man can still set hearts racing and transform theatres into stadia.

Jawan is the story of a vigilante (Shah Rukh Khan) who is out to set the system straight with the help of his gang of six mysterious girls. Standing in his path is supercop Narmada (Nayanthara), who vows to stop him. But the vigilate’s end goal isn’t chaos. It’s retribution and redemption, and plotting the fall of weapons dealer Kali Gaikwad (Vijay Sethupathi). What follows is a fun, albeit slightly illogical, ride as the titans clash, cars jump, bombs explode, and the audience cheers.

Atlee is a master of packaging a simple story neatly and stylishly, something he has followed in Jawan too. Just like his hits with Vijay in Tamil, Jawan follows a somewhat predictable but engaging plot that has been embellished with massy action scenes, foot-tapping score, and the almost-essential roof-raising interval block. It’s a formula we have seen countless times but hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, right.

In many ways, Jawan has been compared to SRK’s previous blockbuster Pathaan. Hands down, Jawan is a better product. Despite its logical fallacies and mass diversions, it has a plot that is comprehensive and solid. It relies not just on visual aesthetics and fights but packs in an emotional core that tugs at your heart in some places. Also, it allows Shah Rukh to emote more. Shah Rukh brings his A-game to Jawan. Atlee gives him more to do here than Sidharth Anand had in Pathaan. The range, the demands of performance are higher but still in the masala entertainment zone.

Vijay Sethupathi has mastered the art of playing menacing villains by now. If Vikram was the zenith for him, Jawan comes close too. His Kali is a worthy foe to SRK’s soldier. His accent in Hindi falters, expectedly, but the actor makes up for that with a measured and memorable performance. Nayanthara does not have the accent handicap and eases into the film quite smoothly. She is a natural actress even beyond the masala genre and shows her acting chops in the limited opportunities she gets. Of the support cast, Sanya Malhotra and Sunil Grover stand out, as does Mukesh Chhabra in an interesting cameo. Deepika Padukone steals the show though when it comes to the emotional scenes. Her special appearance adds to the film, setting the context for our hero’s journey and giving his mission meaning.

The problem with Jawan is that it has the subtlety and finesse of a sledgehammer. It hammers down every point at you without ever acknowledging that the audience may be smart enough to get it on their own. That has been Atlee’s signature and he sticks to it. (Refer to the ain’t broke statement earlier.) The film does not shy away from being what it is – a massy entertainer that is packed with whistle-worthy moments, sometimes at the expense of logic and even the progression of narrative. But does that really matter when the audience is having fun? Probably only to the ‘purists’.

Another complaint I have is with Anirudh. The music – by which I mean the songs – just don’t do it for me. Pathaan’s two songs grew on you over time and became chartbusters by repetition. Anirudh has not been able to recreate his magic in Hindi for me. However, the composer has shown his true class in the film’s background score. The grammar of Jawan belongs as much to him as it does to Atlee. His unique techno BGM is the beating heart of Jawan and keeps you on the edge of your seat, adding gravitas to massy moments and giving depth to the emotional ones.

Jawan is far from a perfect film. But it is an entertaining one, a film that uses the star’s aura and screen presence to full effect. South has done it with Vijay, Ajith, Chiranjeevi (and of late Allu Arjun and Yash too), and it took a south filmmaker to do it equally effectively up north with a Bollywood actor. Jawan reminded me of two films – Indian and Nayak, which is funny because Atlee is as different from Shankar in filmmaking as one can be. But it can safely be said that Jawan is Atlee’s attempt at the Shankar brand of cinema. And he passes with flying colours. Jawan also proves one thing: Shah Rukh Khan 2.0 is here to stay! On to Dunki now.

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