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‘Jawan:’ The King is Officially Back

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Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for “Jawan.”

“Jawan,” a dramatic action-thriller starring Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), was released on Sept. 7. The film offers larger-than-life action, heartwarming emotion and a bombastic musical score all packed into one massively entertaining movie. Smashing records since its release, it has now become the second-highest-grossing Hindi-language film of all time at the global box office, earning $135 million globally. With this, SRK, or “Rukhstar” as nicknamed by his fans, has broken his own global record set earlier this year by action-thriller film, “Pathaan.” The actor has made history,  becoming the first Indian actor to have two entries to the ₹1,000 crore ($140 million) club in the same year.

Oner reason for the movie’s mass appeal can be attributed to SRK’s double-role performance as a father-son duo, backed by strong writing and Atlee Kumar’s signature directorial style. The movie does well to create suspense and mystery around SRK’s characters; the audience is led to believe the protagonist, Azad, is simply in different looks and avatars as the film progresses. However, around the film’s mid-point — in an deus ex-machina twist — the double role is revealed with the entrance of Azad’s father Vikram Rathore, also played by SRK. 

The action itself is reminiscent of the high-octane, intense shots and creative combat featured in movies of the late 90s and early 2000s such as Terminator: Judgement Day, The Matrix and Mission: Impossible III. What makes the action even more enjoyable and fun to watch is Anirudh Ravichander’s fantastic background music and themes. The film smartly distributes five major action scenes throughout the film, and ties them to the story and narrative beat at the time they take place. Due to this, each action setpiece feels different from one another, having its own flavor and style.

An important thing the movie gets right is portraying empowered female characters, though not at the expense of downplaying the male characters. The script provides its two primary female leads with agency. It also positions Azad being backed up by his team of six female characters, each with their own backstory and place in the team. Deepika Padukone, who previously also co-stared with SRK in “Pathaan,” plays Vikram’s wife and Azad’s mother. Scenes with her and young Azad act as the heart of the movie, as they evoke empathy in the hearts of the audience. 

Vijay Sethupathi, a popular actor from South India’s movie industry, showcases his versatility in each scene he is part of as the main antagonist of the film — Kalee Gaikwad. Although his character sometimes feels like the cliché villain, with generic motives the audience has seen many times before, Sethupathi is able to add a certain realness to the character and does his best to ground and justify his actions.

“Jawan,” unlike other movies in the action genre, exceeds audience expectations when it reveals itself to be a political commentary in disguise. Azad and his team work to expose and correct various parts of the country’s political and medical system throughout the movie. It bravely tries to shed light on the dire state of affairs in certain systems and how little the government is doing to improve the state of matters. Azad and his team take matters into their own hands, and through force and coercion, try to bring out reform and improvement.

However, in this regard, the movie makes a necessary but arguably diminishing decision to be extremely heavy-handed in its social and political commentary, with Azad talking directly to the camera to address Indian citizens at times. This may have been necessary to ensure that the film’s intended message reaches the masses, but it also break’s the audience’s immersion at times,making them feel that they were being talked down to. A more subtle delivery of these social messages would have worked better to keep the film more synchronized and free-flowing.

The major success of “Jawan” following “Pathaan” earlier this year has shut down any suspicion  that “Pathaan” was a one-hit-wonder. The King of Bollywood seems to have returned to his groove and is arguably now bigger than ever in his three-decade career. However, he’s not done for the year yet. 

His third movie this year, “Dunki,” is releasing this holiday season on Dec. 22 and is directed by one of the sought-after directors in India: Rajkumar Hirani. Known for directing major critical and commercial successes such as “3 Idiots” and “Carry On, Munna Bhai,” it will be interesting to see Hirani capitalize on SRK’s stardom and reach to tell a story of Indian immigrants trying to find a home for themselves in the United States and Canada. Whether “Dunki” will be SRK’s hat-trick and third major success this year is yet to be decided,  but one thing is for sure: Bollywood’s Baadshah, King Khan, is back and he’s here to stay for the foreseeable future.


Ishan Varshney is an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer. He can be reached at ivarshne@uci.edu.