VSthe return that will please everyone in January PathaanHere is yet another confirmation of Shah Rukh Khan’s status as the reigning and benevolent King of Bollywood. While his previous film explained an established formula, Khan’s latest stretches its arms wider and demonstrates sparks of idiosyncratic vision. It’s a truly pan-Indian film: new Tamil action stylist Atlee imports the bedlam and social consciousness characteristic of South Indian cinema, alerting mainstream audiences to pressing regional concerns – before seemingly losing control of its equipment. A star vehicle that runs like a runaway train, Jawan surprisingly covers a lot of ground at full throttle – but that’s also a polite way of admitting that it’s completely everywhere.
Its surest organizing principle is its lead actor, who moves knowingly and humorously through a range of characters. From his opening sentence (“Who am I?”), Khan makes us wonder what relationship the bandaged warrior liberating a village in a prologue has with the gruff bald man who besieges the Mumbai metro and the prison warden s clinging to a second chance. love. One man Cloud Atlas, Jawan is a puzzle movie where the star proves the puzzle; it’s a great showcase for Khan to play everything under the sun: a tough guy, a dandy army veteran, a total love interest with a future daughter-in-law. There’s undeniably an ego involved, but few movie stars in any movie could model such radically diverse hats with so much flair.
The moving parts around him are less fluid, a swirl of good, bad and blatantly stolen ideas that suggests this project would have benefited from a script editor for five Shah Rukhs. Atlee maintains a frenetic momentum, but he has to, lest we stop to consider the absurd stuff this plot continues to push on us. With the genesis of our hero resolved, we’re left with another puzzle: how a film that features cinema’s most lamentable allusions to The Matrix and Christopher Nolan could also generate massive, equally thrilling, highway carnage than anything Hollywood could handle. Jawan will not prove more enduring than Pathaan in the Khan pantheon, but it’s a semi-fascinating display of star power and an exhilarating (if bumpy) Friday night ride.