A huge portion of the credit goes to writer-director Atlee as well. I guess Atlee had already succeeded in creating an innately political narrative without being obvious about it at the screenplay level, but his greatest success lies in getting SRK on board… I don’t know how the film came together, but the moment Atlee thought that he should cast SRK for this film, he had won half the battle! Probably, he had already imagined the madness, and the whole-hearted applause the film would receive during the last monologue if Shah Rukh were to render it. And he was right about it.
‘Jawan’ has come out in times when the public discourse of our country is largely contaminated with discrimination and hate of all kinds. It has come out in times when narratives of any kind with extreme nationalism are ruling the roost. In such times, a film with a strong counter-narrative is a breath of fresh air…
‘Jawan’ becomes even more important because it is helmed by none other than Shah Rukh Khan! When the surnames of intellectuals, writers, academicians, journalists, civil activists, lawyers, creators, celebrities and most importantly, actors have become more important than their work, SRK – the Mega, International star proves that people in India still have the capacity to see beyond the differences of views, beliefs, and lifestyle. They still have the capacity to love!
I watched ‘Jawan’ in Bandra, Galaxy – technically a multiplex – but still maintaining its single screen vibe. It was overwhelming, refreshing and reassuring to see the kind of love people have for this incredible human being - the King Khan…!
Through the course of the film’s narrative, SRK makes the audience laugh, dance, tear up and of course, reconnect them with the power of love! As always. That’s the superpower of this genius superstar, who oozes so much vulnerability and love through his eyes. He has proved it time and again over the past 30 years. No surprises there, really.
But in this film, he does one more thing - a very surprising and rather an important one - unlike most of his films (barring the example of ‘Chak De India’), he makes the audience think!
Through this film, SRK reminds us the importance of questioning the authority – an absolute essential in a democracy especially with the magnitude and diversity like our country’s. It is in this messaging of ‘questioning’ wherein lies the real uniqueness and power of this film! It gives an important dimension to the kind of riot the film is creating at the box office.
‘Jawan’ talks about all the real issues which people have been very systematically distracted from in the past few years. Instead of focusing on the plight of the farmers of our country, people were made to look at the farmers as terrorists during the farmers’ protests in 2021. Instead of questioning the government about the inefficiency and insensitivity shown during the Corona pandemic, costing countless people their precious lives (remember the number of deaths amongst the migrant laborers during the pandemic because of the mismanagement of the system?), people were made to distract themselves with the ‘Thali Bajao’ and ‘Diya Jalao’ events. And most importantly, instead of questioning the government about the inefficiency or lack of security which led to the Pulwama attack killing 40 CRPF personnel, people were made to ride high on toxic nationalism with a surgical attack on Pakistan (as if no previous government dared to do that!).
Now, ‘Jawan’ precisely draws our attention to all these issues, but the writer-director Atlee does it smartly. He doesn’t directly refer to real-life events. Instead, he creates similar events in the film and makes us focus only on the real issues by not even mentioning the fringe elements. Atlee highlights the debt pressure on the farmers leading to the suicide crisis, points out the corruption in the oxygen cylinder distribution both pre and post pandemic leading to the deaths of so many people. And speaks courageously about the inefficiencies in the institutions concerning our national security. And this he does through tear jerking sequences without bogging the audience with too much information.
Atlee also creates specific and different antagonists for each issue – never directly pointing fingers at the ‘government’ as such.
He immerses us in the plight of the farmers by portraying the state agricultural minister as the antagonist, raises awareness about the state of health facilities in our country with the state health minister as the villain, and for the corruption in the army, he introduces an almost hypothetical character of an arms dealer as the main antagonist of the film. And of course, for the coherency of the screenplay, all the villains are connected to this main villain and he is someone outside the government!
In a nutshell, Atlee points at the real issues and makes the audience think who they want to hold accountable for all the issues in real life! A brilliant way of making a political statement, I felt. And all of this, he does through the classical narrative of a vigilante – a cinematic device even the Indian audiences are quite familiar with. So, it all happens within the realms of a mainstream, masala film. And it is this framework which enables Atlee to counter the anti-national narrative, too.
Atlee crafts a classic tale of a son seeking vengeance for the injustices done to his father. The father, in this case, was deemed an anti-national – again not by any government entity, but this hypothetical villain of the film – the arms-dealer. So, countering the anti-national narrative becomes the protagonist’s main goal and the main plot threat of the film… easy-peasy! To make it even more smooth, Atlee casts SRK in the role of both the father and the son! Thus, the audience has no choice, but to empathize with both the characters and ask our conscience as to why we don’t hesitate in labeling someone as an anti-national so easily – rarely with any logic, reason, or fact-checking!
Atlee develops the narrative in this manner - compelling the audience to reconnect with their conscience and the masterstroke obviously comes in the third act when SRK’s character steals all the EVM machines to bring the main villain to his knees leading to a monologue about elections and in turn democracy and our pivotal role in it as citizens! With the upcoming election season, this monologue becomes momentous.
This monologue in ‘Jawan’ is arguably one of the most powerful and impactful monologues in the history of at least Hindi if not Indian cinema where SRK brings out the main theme of the film – the importance of questioning in democracy! SRK completely steals the show here with the audience hooting and cheering for the Badshah for voicing their true concerns shrouded by the cacophony of all the needless things which I don’t even need to mention here. We are all aware of it.
All these creative choices in Jawan’s screenplay seemed like extremely conscious and important choices especially considering the time at which the film was made and is released.These choices make the film stand apart from all the jingoistic films coming out of the film industry where the makers are too sacred to say anything remotely political/controversial. They are just falling in line and doing their business. It is because of this climate that it is extremely commendable and reassuring that a superstar like SRK, who also has been troubled in recent times because of his religious identity, feels the need to finally speak out and clear his position regarding all the issues tackled in the film. There lies the real success of the film, the writer-director Atlee, SRK and the entire country, I feel!
Atlee and SRK
I would like to believe that when SRK made the decision to do this film, not only as an actor, but as a producer, too, he believed in the power of love that the people of India have for him. He probably believed in the fact that the collective conscience of our country has still not gone to the dogs - no matter how hard the fringe elements have tried and are still desperately aiming for! SRK thus decided to speak to the people of this country hoping that they would listen and ask themselves what are the real issues we face as a country! And well, the people are listening and how!
It is so, so heartening to see the people of this country not disappointing their beloved Star (and in turn themselves)! People have shown their belief in the boundless power of love…
There is another thing which I found very peculiar in Jawan – the use of SRK’s real-life persona by Atlee.
We all know and deeply appreciate the fact that Shah Rukh is genuinely and deeply respectful towards women in his personal as well as professional life. He is not your typical macho guy. He is the perfect gentleman – a great combination of masculinity and femininity who knows how to treat women – how to love them – how to nurture healthy relationships with them. That’s one of the main reasons why Shah Rukh has his fanbase more in women than men. And women across the globe – cutting across the boundaries of age, caste, sexuality, and nationality. All women go crazy for him! By his own admission, being surrounded mostly by women while he was growing up is one of the primary reasons why Shah Rukh has become the person that he is.
Atlee uses all these elements for the son’s character that SRK plays. He was surrounded by women while he was growing up. He is extremely respectful and loving towards all the women in the film, but most importantly, even his vigilante gang is composed of all women except him.
The women in SRK’s gang do all the so-called macho tasks which we are so used to seeing men doing in an action flick. And the choreography of the action scenes with women is done with as much slickness and badassery as would be done for the usual male action heroes. With SRK as the leader of this gang, it all sounds extremely convincing! There are in fact a couple of sequences in the film where SRK is rescued by women!
What all these creative choices do is that it challenges the ideas of masculinity and femininity in the audience’s mind though at a subconscious level. Again, in the times, when we are witnessing the horrendous manifestations of toxic masculinity in our country like in the Manipur gang-rape incident, it is both refreshing and extremely vital to see an action hero who is a fine balance of masculine and the feminine. And the hero can’t function without the women.
To be fair to Hindi Cinema, in recent times, writers and filmmakers have started addressing these issues in the mainstream films. For example, when a major filmmaker like Karan Johar creates the Kathak sequence in ‘Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahani’, it does make some impact in the average audience’s mind. But anyway. Back to ‘Jawan’!
I also thought that in ‘Jawan’ Shah Rukh creates the magic on screen not only as a super star, but also as an actor– particularly for one reason. As an actor, who has worked in the mainstream Hindi Cinema for more than 30 years, molding himself in the framework of the typical South Indian spectacle with high-key drama must have not been easy. But SRK does it with style and ease!
But of course, a huge portion of the credit goes to writer-director Atlee as well. I guess Atlee had already succeeded in creating an innately political narrative without being obvious about it at the screenplay level, but his greatest success lies in getting SRK on board…I don’t know how the film came together, but the moment Atlee thought that he should cast SRK for this film, he had won half the battle! Probably, he had already imagined the madness, and the whole-hearted applause the film would receive during the last monologue if Shah Rukh were to render it. And he was right about it. No actor, absolutely no actor in this country (at least for now) could have evoked the emotions in the audiences’ heart the way Shah Rukh does… It is pure magic on screen – a proof why Cinema remains the most magical and powerful art form in human history and SRK remains to be the most beloved star of our country…! The last of the stars indeed…
So, yes, hats off to Mr. Atlee for giving the audience such a remarkable experience… We owe you a lot, Sir!
But hey, have I conveniently forgotten to talk about the film’s flaws or is ‘Jawan’ a cinematic masterpiece? Of course, not. Far from it. But this is not the space and these are not the times to talk about those flaws. It is far more important to remember what the film is trying to tell us. ‘Jawan’ is a film which reminds us of the power of love and the importance of raising questions. So, let’s promise our beloved star that we will not disappoint him! Shall we?
We love you Shah Rukh and we love our country with all its differences, contradictions and even flaws. We promise you wholeheartedly that we will love,we will question and we will prosper…!
Long Live SRK. Long Live Cinema. Long Live India.
Jai Hind. Jai Bharat.
Epilogue - The stupendous success of ‘Jawan’ makes me happy for yet another reason. In the last few months, it seems that the Hindi films are slowly, but steadily pulling back the audience to the theater. ‘Jawan’ is hopefully the peak of that transition. It was so amusing to see people selling tickets in black outside the theater - a common visual way back in the 90s, gobbled up by the ultimate destroyer called Time… It was wonderful to see the reappearance of that visual. I don’t know after how many years I saw it. It made me so happy!And it is important to note that all of this is happening without any ‘leaders’ endorsing the film or government institutions declaring public holidays for watching the film or making the film tax-free.
Let’s Think. Let’s Question. Let’s Grow and Love…
- Tushar Paranjape
(The Author is a writer-director and cinema educator based out of Mumbai. He is an FTII alumnus and taught there as an assistant professor. He is the writer of acclaimed films like Killa and Chandigarh Karein Aashiqui. Tushar is one of the founding trustees of SPARK foundation, which works in water conservation and education in the tribal areas of Maharashtra.)
Official Hindi Trailer :