From the moment it begins, Jawan never slows down.
Jawan is three hours of all-gas, no-breaks madness. Bollywood storytelling at its most violent hinge-less. Jawan is stuck somewhere between a deeply rallying cry and gleeful silliness. Despite some awkward messaging with its themes and politics, Jawan stands as a nearly perfect testament to the wonder of spectacle.
The film opens with a series of establishing shots showcasing scenic vistas along India’s border. It jumps between wide-angle location shots, extreme close-ups of flora and fauna, production company logos and extreme slow-motion water splashes, seemingly at random and all within the first minute or so. The rapid-fire editing almost never lets up.
Jawan is a convoluted socialist spin on the Robin Hood legend. A small force of female rebels led by a mysterious old man seeks to right the wrongs of capitalist India through revolutionary acts of “terrorism.” Thankfully Jawan’s anger is pointed towards the right targets, the rich and powerful, abusive politicians and police that exist merely to protect a private party.
By mixing over-the-top action movie wackiness with leftist politics, Jawan renders revolution a dinner party; it’s fun, light and playful. Don’t expect some highly intelligent Marxist analysis of contemporary India or the movements of capital. Despite this, it’s clear that the supposed terrorists the film is centred self-defence rather than aggression. It doesn’t turn to the boring moralizations of revolution that many Hollywood films like Hunger Games, unfortunately, sank to.
The glue that holds this marvellous mess together is Shah Rukh Khan. The way Shah Rukh Khan leans into the goofiness of the story while holding together a cultivated cool-guy exterior makes him hilarious, charming and slick as all hell.
Khan plays everything as straight as possible, so when the plot is careening into lunacy, the audience still manages to believe it.
Whenever a character steps into a room, the film cuts to a closeup of their first, powerful step in slow motion as rocks and dust particles are blown away by the sheer power of their presence. These little idiosyncrasies, melodramatic plot beats and stylistic flourishes come across as a bit much initially, but as the film goes on, one grows accustomed to them.
A character stepping in slow motion, or a dramatic close-up tells us that they’re looking at someone intensely — it becomes as hype as humanly possible.
One issue that a few may find is that, for a film that seems to pride itself on its themes of feminism and empowerment, most of the characters in Khan’s all-female strike force are overshadowed in favour of scenes of cool dudes being cool guys. The film itself is wacky enough that it doesn’t come across as intentionally mean-spirited.
All in all, one’s mileage with Jawan will depend on whether you see its overwhelming mania as a feature or bug. Yet, despite its flaws, Jawan is a blast from start to finish that will undoubtedly leave you with a shit-eating grin.
Pure cinematic cocaine.