Jawan (Tamil) First Day First Impression: Shah Rukh Khan Brings Freshness To This Signature Atlee Movie

Atlee introduces a whole new audience to the kind of “mass” that he has been pursuing in Tamil cinema for the last few years. And the end result, featuring a terrific Khan, is delightful for the most part
Jawan Review
Jawan ReviewFilm Companion

Director: Atlee

Writers: Sumit Arora, Atlee, Ramanagirivasan

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Vijay Sethupathi, Deepika Padukone, Priyamani

Duration: 165 minutes

Available in: Theatres

  • When Atlee announced his fifth film — which would see his return to the big screen after four years — with Shah Rukh Khan, it did raise a few eyebrows. His legion of haters aside, there was genuine uncertainty about this unlikely combination, a true merging of two worlds. Many things in Jawan don't work as much as they could’ve, but one thing works in all its entirety. Watching the FDFS show of Jawan (Tamil) in a packed theatre in south India, with every slow-motion punch accentuated by Anirudh’s banger of a score I found myself realising that Shah Rukh Khan was at home in the unbelievably “massy” world of the Atlee film. 

  • The film begins with a terrific high. A body is washed up on a riverside in an unnamed town on the Indian border. A huge flock of local indigenous people gather to carefully bandage and tend to his every bullet wound, a gesture marked not out of greed, but kindness. So, when the time comes for him to repay this act of kindness, we all know where this is leading us to. But you know a scene like this is good when the effect is roused not just by the score, the stunts or the performances, but the simplicity in its writing. The hero’s strength isn’t registered by words, but by one striking imagery. His shadow looms big on a temple deity’s idol. The bandages on his body hover over his shoulder, with his silhouette resembling the idol’s many hands. And a good few minutes into the scene, we hear the hero utter his first words. These words aren’t leading to a stylish punch dialogue or an emotional “thank you.” It is a question which manages to concoct the right amount of curiosity and excitement.

Shah Rukh Khan in Jawan
Shah Rukh Khan in Jawan
  • The film then goes on to lose a little bit of its steam trying to chase this high that it beautifully managed to create in its first five minutes. 30 years into the future, a bald but sprightly Khan and his savvy gang of six women take a metro train in Mumbai hostage. Blood is shed to send out a message, money is scrambled to diffuse the situation (with a hilarious VTV Ganesh making a voice cameo. Whoever thought of this casting goldmine deserves a raise) and negotiator Narmada (Nayanthara) is introduced with a cool chase sequence — giving her male peers in the industry a strong run for their money. But this is also when the film begins to slowly unravel and fill its stylish, intentional silences with forced pockets of sentimental fluff. Social issues like farmer suicides and medical negligence are listed out through the lives of people with tiny flashbacks — which often cuts to shots of people profusely shedding tears — that neither give us the time to relate to these tragedies nor have the depth in a genre like this.

  • Atlee’s flair for painting his characters with detailed strokes isn’t visible with Khan’s gang of women — who are a shadow of Vijay’s football team in Bigil (2019). But he makes this up with Shah Rukh Khan’s Azad, a jailer whose connection with prison goes back years. Khan is terrific in Jawan, not just in moments of pure revelry, but also when he is required to pare it back. In a cute scene with Narmada’s daughter, he re-lives the pain of not having grown up under the care of his parents. Even when the writing is intentionally melodramatic, Khan makes the scenes work. This is a testament to his capabilities as an actor and not Atlee’s as a director. And just when you’re beginning to sit back and give into this familiar template, Atlee throws in an interval sequence that reminds us of why one signs up for his films. 

Vijay Sethupathi in Jawan
Vijay Sethupathi in Jawan
  • In characteristic Atlee fashion, the second half begins with a nugget of the past that could very well be a wonderful film of its own. Vikram Rathore (of course SRK) is a jawan of the Agni squad, who is tasked with bringing back kidnapped soldiers and truck drivers home from the enemies in 1986. While he is successful in his mission, he still endures a form of failure on the battlefield that he struggles to recover from. This smart thread is the fabric that holds up the structure of Jawan. Vikram’s marriage to Aishwarya (Deepika Padukone) isn’t dwelled upon (it does not play out with the same ease as Vijay and Nithya Menen's unforgettable romance in the otherwise ordinary Mersal (2017)). It is a romance that is already established the second we lay eyes on them, and we readily accept this only because of Padukone’s smart, comforting casting choice. In her limited screen time, she manages to make a lasting stirring impression on us — reiterating Atlee’s bias for writing his flashbacks with a different, stronger pen. 

  • It is also in the second half that we see characters like Vijay Sethupathi’s Kaali – who barely got time to impress earlier — make his presence felt. Vikram Rathore is a scene-stealer in every second of his wild ride in Jawan. Atlee goes on to add a fun little twist to his backstory (this gets one of the most creatively designed payoffs revolving around a gun in the second half), which adds so much lightness and brevity to a genre that is known for its love affair with double roles. Atlee’s stamp of “mass” sits beautifully in Vikram Rathod, just as much as age does in Shah Rukh Khan, who flaunts his greys and wrinkles with marvellous irreverence.

Deepika Padukone in Jawan
Deepika Padukone in Jawan
  • It is also surprising how many things Jawan gets right as a Tamil film. From its excellent league of dubbing artists, who capture the essence of every voice right from Shah Rukh Khan to Sanjay Dutt with precision, to its emotional sensibilities, Jawan is a superbly packaged Tamil movie. The film is also surprisingly funny at the oddest of times, doing a delicate dance without being inappropriate. Vijay Sethupathi might not be a menacing villain — mostly because we are used to seeing the talented actor being reduced to a stereotype — but his best moments come when he is with Shah Rukh Khan. In moments of him struggling to get his gun to work at the most important time, or those where he is forced to fear death for the first time in his life, we understand why he was cast in the first place.

  • Nothing is what it seems in an Atlee film. The filmmaker’s eye packing in detail in the most unexpected places is apparent in Jawan too. Life comes full circle for almost every character. A prison is not just a prison in his film, but a reminder and duty for some. No small act goes unrecognised even in the larger scheme of things. Like the little boy who makes a meaningful promise to a step-mother who steps up in a fitting moment, no detail is small enough to be forgotten or brushed aside. It is the film’s purpose in finding grandeur in the smallest thread in the larger fabric that stops Jawan from being a forgettable entertainer. 

Watch The Official Trailer of Jawan

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