JAWAN: MOVIE REVIEW
1 STAR / 5 (POOR)
CAST: SHAH RUKH KHAN, SANYA MALHOTRA
NAYANTHARA, VIJAY SETHUPATHI
HINDI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES AVAILABLE), SEPTEMBER 2023
THE WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR
SRK THE BUSINESSMAN SCORES ANOTHER POOR-QUALITY TORTURE
The law of averages slams in, reminding you that just as there is the dazzlingly good, there is the nauseatingly bad. Last month, I watched two outstanding Indian features – Rai’s ‘Oh My God 2’, and Selvaraj’s ‘The Hunt for Veerappan’. This month, we’re brought crashing down to third-grade trashy ground by ‘Jawan’ – a terribly made film about a group of vigilantes who hold the government to ransom and then surprisingly make it do good deeds. All this is just re-treaded territory, first ignited by visionary mass director S. Shankar, and now Atlee, his former assistant director, who does his usual lazy shtick by simply rehashing the old stuff with overboiled, done-to-death, screamingly melodramatic direction – I badly wanted to exit the theatre at the 1.5 hour mark but forced myself to finish the nearly 3 hour punishment.
It is painful to see storied superstar Shah Rukh Khan degenerating so badly in the later decades of his career. This artiste who toplined such excellent movies as DDLJ, Dil Se, Devdas, Asoka, Swades has stopped caring about quality from a long time and only lusts after more box office triumphs no matter how shoddy his recent films are. After ‘The Lives of Others’ (2006), he said that’s the kind of memorable cinema he wants to make – what a 17 year joke! Notice he has long since stopped working with good directors and the few ones he has recently worked with have been compromised by poor collaboration (Imtiaz Ali – ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’). Good taste and cinematic quality are repeatedly butchered in ‘Jawan’ in the relentless hail of gunfire that drags on here – SRK meanwhile has his champion sights firmly fixed on the Rs.1000 crore box office mark.
The story, cut-‘n’-cadged from ‘Anniyan’, ‘Tagore’ and suchlike vigilante movies, follows Azad Rathore (Shah Rukh Khan) and his gang of lady vigilantes, who have all emerged from the trauma of personal and social hells. Carrying out elaborate hostage-type situations and then forcing the government to do massive cash transfers to impoverished farmers and skeletally run government hospitals, Rathore & Power Puff Girls rock the show, their ultimate nemesis being a crooked weapons dealer Kaalie (Vijay Sethupathi), while a police officer Narmada (Nayanthara) tries to rein in the illegal rampage.
The vigilante melodrama could have been handled with genuine emotional resonance and at least a bit more maturity while sacrificing none of the movie’s power – but director Atlee has the narrative maturity of a ten year old. Where one spoon of masala is enough and actual expert cooking is required, he will shovel in a vessel full of chilli and shake the cauldron with earthquake fervour till the walls are splattered with the remains of the day. Tamil cinema has experts like Vetrimaaran, while it also has third-rate peddlers like the current perpetrator who runs every scene with cartoonish, hysterical garishness and the likes of whom have spoiled the name of Indian cinema down the decades. The background music is turned up to a blaring blast – instead of actually feeling something, you are dictated to about what you should feel and how loudly you should cry. Emotional modulation explodes into extreme emoting most of the time, and the movie’s highly manipulative posturing is evident scene after scene.
There is hardly any vulnerability to the heroines and heroes – their incredible fighting skills will put Hollywood Avengers to shame, while the wall to wall action sequences are terribly artificial, holding no real power, the lazy action choreographer banking on the scene-cutting which is dependably seized with epileptic fits. Other wonders abound – a gallows official does no medical tests whatsoever, she just holds the pulse of a lady and declares her to be pregnant ! , while a child is allowed to wander into the site where his mother is being hanged. At least on two occasions, the editing abruptly jumps to a totally different sequence later on – people who were fighting in one frame, are suddenly shown bound up and tortured in the next frame.
Vijay Sethupathi’s acting deficiencies are severely exposed. Even in Tamil cinema, his acting is spotty to say the least – here, his Hindi delivery is weak, and the face mostly blank, making for a very poor villain – on the positive side for him, how fantastic to pick up a fat paycheck for such little effort!
Nayanthara is at the mercy of a mediocre director, and her by-the-numbers act is therefore hardly surprising. Shah Rukh Khan in a double role is bland and robotic, and in recent times has introduced a cavalier, casual, slightly humorous style to his persona, unwittingly conveying an almost senile innocuousness afflicting his middle-aged character. Only in one audience-exhorting scene in the whole movie does he come to life, otherwise it is a shame on SRK for another listless performance, and shame on the directors for letting this ‘90s livewire fizzle away surrounded by yes-men who still call him emperor while all he’s doing is just wearing the emperor’s clothes.
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