Shah Rukh Khan, apparently, is enjoying his new status as an action hero. However, his action movies (so far) have been far from enjoyable. Earlier this year, we got Pathaan, whose mediocrity was hailed as art by both the audiences (at least, most of them) and the filmmakers (watch Siddharth Anand's interview with Anupama Chopra). I was shocked by the box office figures that were generated by Pathaan and found it weird how many people started to believe that Khan had "saved cinema." It seems as if nowadays, movies merely need to do profitable business to generate "cinema is alive" chants. The public has turned into those producers who consider money to be the sole criterion to measure the quality of a film. I have no idea about the latest numbers Jawan has crossed at the box office, but according to Wikipedia, it has currently raked in Rs. 287.46 crores (the film's budget is Rs. 300 crores). Looks like Khan has got another hit under his belt.
The most crucial question, though, should be this: Is Jawan a good film? Short answer: No. It's so terrible it makes a mediocre Pathaan appear like a masterpiece. Atlee's production is so incompetent that you can't help but wonder if Khan really wants to be seen as an action hero so desperately that he is okay with doing such embarrassing movies. Calling this third-rate hogwash a film seems too much of a compliment. Jawan is mostly a collection of "cool stills," ready to take their place in trailers or prevues. There is a shot of Khan in the sky with thunder spreading behind him like wings. There is that confident expression he makes after revealing his bald face. Don't forget about the pose he strikes with a spear in one hand and bandages covering his entire body while things burn behind him. You think filmmakers first make a movie and then select certain shots for the trailers. Atlee has done the opposite. He seems to have first made a teaser and then filled the gaps to extend it into a feature.
Atlee is so busy embellishing small things, like smoke arising from cigarettes, that he loses sight of the bigger picture. The dust the characters produce by striking their palms together feels more evocative than anyone's demise. For Atlee, emotions are nothing but manipulative devices. The way he shoots people dying and crying feels so cheap and disgusting that I wanted to close my eyes. The director doesn't even spare kids and babies for his vulgar tricks. The camera observes a farmer's misery as an opportunity to push the buttons of the audience (some government officials ask for money at a funeral). The scene where a doctor explains how important it is to get an oxygen cylinder urgently ends with the gasp of a woman. Because without that gasp, how can Atlee exploit the situation and fill us with more horror? What makes these moments even worse is an insistent background score that forces us to laugh or cry. You can replace the music with placards having the words "Ha Ha" and "Cry Now" written on them. I would have left the theater during the interval if I had not had a professional interest in seeing the film.
There are moments where a line or an emotion travels slightly faster than the scene. The dialogues, too, often sound awkward, as if the dubbing was done by some amateur artist. This technical ineptness makes Jawan look like those Hindi-dubbed South Indian movies that are available on YouTube. No wonder Jawan comes across as dated and clumsy. The shots where the poor people look happy (for instance, when a Robin Hood-like figure takes care of the loans) resemble those public service advertisements that are played before the previews. In fact, the entire film is a PSA, and it's Khan who is asking us to become better, intelligent citizens. His speech regarding the elections is tailor-made for the social media crowd who love writing long, progressive tweets. This clip could possibly get circulated on Twitter (or X) after Jawan's OTT release. But the film's good intentions are simply an excuse to create a highlight reel for one of the biggest superstars of our country.
Strangely, the issues Jawan addresses don't have any weight. This is why there is a lack of tension and excitement. The movie is so preoccupied with making Khan's character appear good and stylish that it reduces others to insignificant puppets. His army of women exists with tragic backstories that the film exploits for shallow emotions, and Khan's character utilizes to emerge as a champion. With some minor tweaks, these ladies can be replaced with men, and it won't matter much. It's a well-known fact that Khan admires and respects women, and there is a scene in Jawan where his character tells all the female prisoners that he sees them as mothers and daughters. This attitude weakens the romantic angle. Azad (Khan) looks at Narmada (Nayanthara) with a gentlemanly politeness. Whatever romance Khan had in his eyes now seems to have been replaced by polished urbanity. He indeed sees his co-actors as mothers and daughters, which is why there is no trace of romance in his eyes. When Khan almost kisses Nayanthara or flirts with Deepika Padukone, he looks a little uncomfortable and controlled. In front of Padukone, Khan's lack of passion becomes more evident. She gets lost in his eyes while he maintains some distance. This friction made you cringe during the sultry scenes in Pathaan.
Only the action sequences in Jawan manage to be bearable. Atlee films these sequences like a kid playing with his favorite toys. The one that arrives in the opening establishes Khan's character as a deity. His shadow looms over everybody (literally) and touches the statue of a Supreme Being. It's a nice touch, but Jawan, unfortunately, continues to go downhill after this opening scene. The real winner here is not Khan but Vijay Sethupathi. He displays a cool detachment from his surroundings because he understands that you don't need to be too serious in a movie like this. Sethupathi does wonders for this film with his wry lines and steals the spotlight from everybody. Alas, Atlee's exhausting, impersonal vision numbs your senses and nullifies Sethupathi's efforts. Jawan is one of the worst films of the year.
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