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Jawan - Param Bakwaas Chakra

Question - What do you get when you try to eat idli dipped in saag paneer soaked in a bowl of hot and sour manchow soup? Answer - An absolute, ungodly mess that will give you dyspepsia, nausea and heartburn. That's the exact same feeling one gets after watching the new Shahrukh Khan offering, Jawan. His previous movie this year, Pathaan (2023), was a good, rousing entertainer with no pretensions to being anything other than that. It was no Godfather (1972), but in comparison to Jawan, it feels like an Academy Award winner.

The story tries to hit so many social issues and ideas from farmer suicides to corporate bailouts to medical malpractice to political corruption to faulty armaments to the military to exercising your vote thoughtfully, that you barely recover from one before the next one hits you. It's like being on an out of control roller coaster ride being controlled by an operator high on cocaine. The director Atlee clearly has a The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003) hangover. From the villain having a box of red pills and blue pills to the climactic action set piece involving trucks on a highway, he is desperate to prove his action movie street cred. I haven't seen his previous work in Tamil cinema so maybe this is off day. Along with him, the other person who is all the rage nowadays in South India is the music director Anirudh. All the movies he is part of, and they predominantly are testosterone-fueled action movies, are given the incongruous tag line "An Anirudh musical". Again, I am not familiar with his Tamil oeuvre, but his output in Jawan is eminently forgettable. I can't remember a single line or tune of any of the songs that are peppered throughout, and keep popping up most inopportunely. Both of them may be superstars in their own right in their familiar milieu, but in a Hindi movie their style and sensibility is like fitting a square peg in a round hole. There are so many slow motion scenes that when it was time for me to leave the theater after an agonizing 2hr 45 mins, in my mind it took me what seemed like another hour to walk out even though I couldn't wait to get out fast enough.

SRK has charm and charisma and screen presence to spare and shows it in many scenes, but even he cannot keep this overblown vehicle from sinking under its own weight. Vijay Sethupathi is also an actor with oodles of talent and flair which he showed in Vikram Vedha (2017), Vikram (2022) and the Amazon Prime series Farzi (2023), but he too is given an underwritten confused role that doesn't give him the villainous heft he deserved. The one line that made me laugh is that he declares himself the fourth largest arms dealer in the world. At least the man doesn't have an inflated sense of self to call himself number one. There are a bunch of beautiful actresses from Nayanthara to Sanya Malhotra to Priyamani (and a cameo by Deepika Padukone) and ostensibly the script tries to give them some meaty kickass action and agency, but in the end they are reduced to standbys to the males mouthing the word "Chief" so many times that one feels one is in a Native American settlement in the 1800s. To top it all, there's even a completely unnecessary cameo by Sanjay Dutt singing "Nayak nahi Khalnayak hoon main" while talking about his Malayali wife making an Onam meal. I kid you not, it's that kind of movie.

Yes, there are some action set pieces that are good (and damn, does the Mumbai metro look swanky, slick and super spotless), but they are overshadowed by a script that tries to check too many righteous boxes. I got way more pleasure after coming home and having some plain aloo subzi with a paratha from Kawan than from the overcooked Jawan.

September 8, 2023

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