Thursday, July 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Jawan’ is a Visual Feast

Director: Atlee
Writers: Atlee & S. Ramanagirivasan.
Stars: Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Deepika Padukone

Synopsis: A high-octane action thriller which outlines the emotional journey of a man who is set to rectify the wrongs in the society.

To talk about Jawan without spoiling a damn thing is nearly impossible. However, it would rob you of the pleasure of discovering the film for yourself. There’s very little I can say without revealing an ounce of the plot other than it is an astonishing piece of work that consistently engages its viewer through a series of insane plot twists and one breathtaking action scene after the other. It’s perhaps the best Bollywood film of the decade, but definitely one of Shah Rukh Khan’s finest motion pictures. 

After [literally and figuratively] resurrecting from the dead in Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan, the King of Bollywood is on a more-than-determined quest to reclaim his throne as India’s most profitable and acclaimed star. The early box-office projections show Jawan easily obliterating Pathaan’s record-breaking gross and likely setting more records for Khan to easily beat once Tiger vs. Pathaan eventually comes out. Before the fourth chapter in the YRF Spy Universe, Khan’s recent stint of critical and commercial duds caused him to take a break from acting, thus robbing the world of the power he held in films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Chak De! India and Om Shanti Om

Suppose Pathaan was SRK’s resurrection from the nadir of his acting career. In that case, Jawan not only celebrates some of his greatest acting skills but also cements him as one of the greatest performers who ever lived, and not just in India. Some American journalists who completely missed the point of what he achieved in his multi-faceted career called him “the Tom Cruise of India,” but they fail to realize that Tom Cruise can’t do what Shah Rukh Khan does, just like he can’t do what Tom Cruise does. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, and Shah Rukh Khan is Shah Rukh Khan. There is no “Tom Cruise of India,” they’re both completely different actors with skill sets that have respectively gained them the adulation of billions of fans worldwide, and can’t be put on the same pedestal, other than the fact that they’ve had massive commercial highs and lows, just like any public figure. 

Jawan is Khan’s best film since Chennai Express – and one of his greatest roles to date. The film sees him play multiple characters with a deft balance of physical comedy (his timing is so impeccable it hurts), emotional weight, and total badassery, always owning every ounce of the frame. No one can grace a camera like Khan does. He consistently involves the audience watching throughout the film, looking directly at the camera and subtly breaking the fourth wall. He never fully breaks it, but when one of his characters says he wants to hear people clap after a tense situation ends positively, who is he talking to? The characters on-screen, the audience, or both? No matter: the audience clapped, responding everything Khan was doing for them with massive cheers. 

Appearances from Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Dutt, and even the director saw them go wild, making them take out their phones (with the flash on) to celebrate their icons on screen again. Normally, it would be bothersome, but it’s part of the custom (and fun) of seeing a great Indian film on the big screen. Someone on Twitter (I’m never calling it X) said that Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t make films but festivals while posting a video of a packed movie theater with a crowd so massive it surpasses the heights of the Barbenheimer craze in North America. Whoever said that SRK does festivals is right. You don’t even see these movies elicit these strong reactions for the entirety of their runtime. However, Jawan is one of those rare treats best seen with a packed crowd that is collectively blown away by the film’s multiple twists and mind-numbingly incredible action scenes. 

Believe me when I say this (even when I’m not even touching on the plot): the movie goes into so many wild directions through its 170-minute runtime that, even if you’ve started to figure out where the story goes and connecting its narrative threads, it will eventually catch you off-guard. And to do it in a way that feels natural to the story’s progression is even more impressive. Most spiderweb-constructed films like these usually fail within the third act, but Jawan only grows stronger by its masterful pre-interval sequence and delivers a finale for the ages. It’s also a much more politically charged film than I had anticipated, but its social commentary will resonate with all moviegoers, regardless of which country you’re from. It also allows Khan to give his most impassioned monologue in ages, another way to showcase the magnifying power he holds in front of a camera. 

He also has incredible chemistry with Nayanthara and Padukone. However, you already know that with the latter, if you’ve seen Pathaan or perhaps his other collaborations with her (Om Shanti Om remains a masterpiece). On the other hand, Nayanthara’s character takes a much different route than expected from the promotional materials, giving her much agency and emotional depth with Khan’s characters as the runtime progresses. 

Jawan is also a visual feast, always going the extra mile to widen the audience’s eyes in awe and bedazzlement. The movie gives John Wick: Chapter 4 a run for its money through its insane pre-interval scene that completely shifts the initial movie’s direction into something so crazy it could only happen in your wildest dreams. And yet, it works and brings about some of the greatest on-screen action you may ever see in a motion picture. I’m almost convinced the highway chase between large trucks and motorcycles is the greatest action scene ever put into film. But then something even more grandiose happens, and now I’m convinced this is the greatest action scene ever put to film, and so forth. 

I would love to discuss the movie in detail, but I would hate even to spoil an ounce of this thing to anyone. Sometimes, I touch upon key details that stood out for me and discuss several elements in detail. However, Jawan is a different beast. It’s a film best experienced without having seen (or read) anything about it beforehand, other than the pre-conceived fact that Shah Rukh Khan plays more than one character and that some known Indian stars also appear. Just know that the movie never takes your expectations in check and keeps obliterating them at every turn. It delivers thrills the likes of which you’ve never seen, with Shah Rukh Khan giving one of the very best performance(s) of a career filled with so many legendary roles. Pathaan saw him crawl back to his throne as the King of Bollywood, while Jawan forever cements him as an icon, no matter what other movie he chooses to do next. 

Oh, and he’s not going anywhere.

Grade: A+

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