If ‘Pathaan’ was a reminder to all who had forgotten who King Khan was, then ‘Jawan’ is a threat; it’s a whisper that echoes back in the form of a roar

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If Jawan was simply a movie, then it would perhaps have been fair to claim that it’s not one of the finest works of cinema — it’s silly in some places, shoddy in others, but it’s not just a movie, so you must ignore its logical fallacies so that it can achieve what it has set out to achieve: leave us with a renewed awareness of all that happened, of all that is happening, and the power we possess to change it.

This Atlee directorial revels in its context, musters courage like none other, and celebrates the personal and political for a star who has everything to lose, but knows that ‘haar kar jeetne wale ko baazigar kehte hain,’ (those who win through defeat are called baazigar) so like the King that he is, bets it all, and emerges a winner, because when governments fail, leaders stumble, and a country whimpers at the hands of hate, it takes Shah Rukh Khan, a superstar to teach us the ropes of patriotism all over again.

As someone who adores Khan, and writes about films for a living, one knows better than to separate Khan’s identity from the character he plays. For a long time, the actor has celebrated his own stardom through the stories he tells, being pompous in his self-reverence, with a song here, or a cameo there has been routine. He is perhaps the only star whose off-screen presence in interviews, and witty #AskSRK sessions are as sought-after (if not more) than the films he stars in.

The blurring line between actor and character

That said, this blurring of lines between actor and character has taken a completely new meaning ever since India has become a country we fail to recognise anymore, ever since Khan has become the only remnant of the India we once knew — a country that loved a Muslim superstar with all its might without reducing him to his religion, a country that wasn’t entrenched in so much hate, and, alas!, a country in which actors didn’t have to be lauded for their courage in making anti-establishment films.

For those of us who love India and Shah Rukh Khan, we know that they have inadvertently become one and the same, which is why when Khan quips, ‘bete ko haath lagane se pehle, baap se baat kar’ (Talk to the father before messing with the son) the whole theatre roars, cheers, with some eyes even glistening with tears. An attack on Khan is an attack on the India we don’t want to lose, the one we can see we are losing every time our favourite superstar crumbles, the one we believe will rise and fight back, every time he swings a gun, wears his action-avatar and fights to win.

This inextricable connection between what Khan represents, and what role he essays, is not an illusion that we buy into, it’s a reality that stems from the belief that for a nation that is without spine, for a nation that didn’t stand up when farmers committed suicide, and citizens were made outcasts, and homes were demolished, is also a nation that suddenly woke up from its deep slumber of ignorance, when a star’s son was vindicated, when his home and heart were under the boulder of deep grief, because they love him, in a way that no icon has been loved.

Homage to all that has been brushed under the carpet

Khan, alongwith Atlee, utilises his own mammoth-sized myth as a vehicle to tell a story about justice and social evils — farmers’ suicides, shortage of oxygen cylinders, innocent citizens put behind bars, poor healthcare, rich businessmen funding the government and uneducated ministers for whom no casualty is too big, if it means they are served well. It’s all there, in the subtext — saying everything, without saying anything, because if Pathaan was a reminder to all who had forgotten who King Khan was, then Jawan is a threat.

Atlee packages all the morality and messaging into a full-out mass entertainer that sometimes rushes too fast from one thing to another, only to force you to clasp your heart and gawk at the screen to discover what is the next trick the duo has up their sleeves, because with Jawan, there’s no time to breathe, it’s an out-and-out Shah Rukh Khan show, where every scene is an entrance, every look is worthy and maddening cheer and whistles, and every dialogue is a potential political innuendo.

Even a single reference to the film’s events seems like a crime because despite its uneven structuring and pacing, Atlee designs the film to be such that you don’t devour it, you unravel it, dialogue by dialogue, and punch after punch, because the heart of Jawan lies in its ability to pay subtle but loud homages to everything that has been brushed under the carpet for far too long.

Rage makes Khan look better

It only adds to the joy that Nayanthara and Deepika Padukone play their roles all too efficiently for there to be any room for criticism. While Nayanthara is the sassy queen bringing you to your knees, Padukone is the definition of strength and beauty. Vijay Sethupathi, perhaps the most talented actor on board, seems to be having too much playing the villain, and it shows. Priyamani and Sanya Malhotra become the soul of the film with their poignant performances.

Anirudh’s background score is one to kill for, even if the songs are nothing if not a testament to the energy Khan has at 58, but apart from that it lacks the traits to be an earworm, except Not Ramaiya Vastavaiya, which is too zany to be forgotten.

All said and done, watch Jawan because Shah Rukh Khan reminds you of the India you should fight for, the India he knows prospers within many of us that loved him, and continue to love him. Watch Jawan because Atlee knows how to make a mass film, one that becomes an enduring ode to the community experience that films used to be — a secular celebration of the man who makes the whole room sit in the anticipation that he shall come and remind us of simpler and more magical times. That he will instill in us the will to fight for something that we cherish wholeheartedly, something that is threatened by forces that only we can stop.

If not anything else, then the audience reaction to first Pathaan, and then Jawan will tell you that it takes Shah Rukh Khan to make this country angry, that too a pissed-off Khan that is, and my is he furious? Well, the good thing is, if love makes Khan look good, then rage makes him look better. With Jawan, he tells us that sometimes you can’t scream from the rooftops, sometimes you have to whisper and hope that it is echoed back in the form of roars — Jawan is that whisper.

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