Vigilante films that aim to shatter the establishment can be a bit exhausting, but when the clean-up is spearheaded by swagger-powered leads like Shah Rukh Khan and Nayanthara, the film gets a major shot in the arm. 'Jawan', the glossy action-adventure directed by South Indian talent Atlee Kumar, sees Khan dial up the charisma and bravado by a few impressive notches.
But brace yourself; it's a three-hour movie marathon, but the collective star power makes it feel snappier.
The film kicks into gear with a tense hijack scenario on the Mumbai metro. Khan and his army of efficient women (think a 'Money Heist'-esque takeover in Mumbai) hold hundreds of passengers hostage and scare them into submission. But their demands are unadulterated and altruistic, involving helping thousands of debt-ridden Indian farmers who resort to suicide.
Their Machiavellian means of doing greater good is undoubtedly questionable, but what's not to love about a hero who likes to make an arresting first impression?
Khan's dance on the metro to an old Hindi song adds zest to the opening scenes, and his negotiations with the strikingly glamorous special agent, Narmada Rai—though they look impossibly staged—are fun. As far as setting the scene for an ambitious action entertainer goes, 'Jawan' scores high. His various masks and get-ups are often borderline ludicrous (think plastered like a mummy and elaborate face masks), but Khan is one of the few idols in Bollywood who can get away with murder and mayhem.
While there's a lot of fun to be had in the first half, it's the second half—where Khan enters the scene as a much older man—that is truly captivating. To see Khan, 57, who has entertained us for over three decades, play someone closer to his own age is worth celebrating. Looking like a finer version of George Clooney in a battlefield, Khan excels as the cigar-smoking dad battling amnesia.
He joins his vigilante son on a mission to clean up India and weed out nefarious, corrupt ministers, politicians, and arms dealers without asking too many questions. The father-son scenes are truly heartening. The same can't be said for the villain. Actor Vijay Sethupathi, who's on call to play a morally bankrupt arms dealer, comes off as a stock villain. At one point, Khan's character even jokes that he looks a lot like Santa Claus, and we couldn't agree more. His menacing scowls and gnarls are over-the-top.
Speaking of over-the-top, the world of 'Jawan' also seems to paint a rosy image of prisons. Women in matching pistachio-green coordinated outfits make you feel like they are in a luxury spa rather than a jail for rehabilitation. The women inmates aren't gruff or grimy but impossibly nurturing. They also cry when they hear a story of unjust harm towards the hero and his family. But then we remember that you don't go into a Shah Rukh Khan magnum opus for its adherence to reality. Director Atlee has taken a few liberal creative licenses, and he flies with it since he has an invincible hero backing it all.
Make no mistake; it is Khan's show all the way. The women do their bit, but their propensity to shed tears at the mention of any tragedy is a bit unsettling. In terms of chemistry, Khan and Deepika Padukone score high. It takes us a bit of time to warm up to Khan and Nayanthara, who are pairing up for the first time for a film.
As in any worthy Bollywood film, the villains, the henchmen, and the law enforcement officers are a bunch of bumbling and ineffective lot. But it is actor Sanjay Dutt who makes the most of his cameo. His turn as the formidable negotiator brings in the laughs. In the midst of all the explosions and cars burning, there are a few scenes that are genuinely humorous.
While the film would have benefitted from trimming a few songs and action sequences, Khan is in command all the way in 'Jawan'. If you are willing to surrender to his movie-star magic, then you are likely to enjoy this vociferous vigilante fare a lot more.
All you need to know about 'Jawan'
Director: Atlee Kumar
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Dutt
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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'Jawan' is now running in UAE cinemas.