Shah Rukh Khan does a U-turn on Pathaan in Jawan. In that film, he stood by “Ye mat poochho desh ne tumhare liye kya kiya, but ye ki tumne desh ke liye kya kiya.” But in Jawan, he keeps a full Mumbai metro hostage, kidnaps politicians, and hacks into public systems. The intent, however, remains altruistic. (Also read: Jawan review and release live updates)
Leading a pack of five girls with diverse backgrounds and strengths, Azad (Shah Rukh) is hell-bent to cure every crippled arm of the Indian political system, from agriculture to health. All of those five girls have been wronged in the past, and Shah Rukh is on a mission to seek justice for the likes of them.
But this second-hand patriotism soon starts to feel bordering on the male saviour syndrome. Not to mention, the narrative, though brisk, starts taking a formulaic path, and the tone becomes preachy. It’s only at the interval block that we realise Atlee has been holding the ace close to his chest.
When we get into the origin story of Azad, both coherence and emotion begin to organically make their way into the narrative. But from thereon, Jawan starts riding two horses – one towards a larger, national cause and the other towards personal redemption. It oscillates from micro to macro, personal to national, a revenge saga to a patriotic drama. Though the two share their origin, the switch is seldom seamless.
Shah Rukh Khan is the perfect casting choice to tell a tale that merges the personal and political. His personal is his political, and his brand of patriotism has always been to be unabashedly himself, to wear his identity on his sleeve, firmly yet silently. In Jawan, however, he’s often posturing , particularly in the preachy parts that ask his countrymen to vote wisely. He’s instinctively effective where his character’s agenda is personal. For Shah Rukh Khan, it’s always personal. And he had to be just that in order to be the most political.
Spoiler alert begins
In probably the best scene of the film, Shah Rukh’s soldier questions Vijay Sethupathi’s weapon supplier why he supplied malfunctioning guns to the Indian Army, putting his fellow men at risk. When Vijay says the error is human, thus putting the blame on the soldiers who lack training on the modern equipment, Shah Rukh fires an empty shot at him. He tells a startled Vijay that ‘Jawans’ like him aren’t scared to sacrifice their lives, but the payoff has to be the national good, and not the greed of a few like him. He adds that it’s indeed a human error, but not of the jawans. It’s a human error of greedy businessmen like him.
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This soft patriotism has always been Shah Rukh’s mainstay. In Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, he never went all ‘mere desh ki mitti ki khushboo’ like Amrish Puri, but stuck to his Indian values by eventually convincing his girl’s father to hand her over to him. In Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, he doesn’t let a guest in because “wo Bharat se aaya hai,” but welcomes him with open arms by feeling that sense of brotherhood first-hand. In Farah Khan’s Main Hoon Na, he goes on a covert mission to protect his army boss’ daughter, but gets convinced only upon discovering his long-lost brother also studies in the same college.
In Yash Chopra’s Veer Zaara and Jab Tak Hai Jaan, where he plays a ‘jawan’ as well, the latent idea is to find love or compete with it. Even in the more patriotic films like Swades and Chak De! India, Shah Rukh’s patriotism is motivated by the personal urge to clear his reputation – as an ambitious NRI and a disgraced Muslim coach respectively.
In Jawan, he doesn’t go about lecturing girls under his tutelage on what’s India. But when he talks straight to the came