Jawan apparently means “soldier”. Why this is the name of the movie is not immediately obvious.
A differnet kind of theater experience for me. Here in Finland the audiences are usually quite muted, but as far as I can tell, there was me and about 40 Indian immigrants. I did not know there were that many Indians living in this small city. It was kind of weird, because I reserved a seat on the first row, as always, and there was a few empty rows behind me – apparently the only white person – before there was all these other people packed into the back of the room. And they reacted much more openly to what was going on on the screen. There was also clearly a cultural divide as the rest of the audience found certain things much funnier than I did.
But hey, you probably won’t be able to replicate my experience, so what about the movie?
I will try to avoid spoilers, which is actually kind of important here, because there are wonderful surprises here. That’s actually one reason to seek out movies from outside the west. The storytelling is different and you can’t predict everything in the same way you can with western movies, where you just know how things are set up and can often tell what the twists are early on.
First, I like teams. They might have been overdone in superhero movies, but those teams are kind of boring, as they are often about people who can kick as, but in different ways. Here the team is six women with different roles lead by a man. Sadly, we don’t get as much of the team as I would like, but also, the team has a strong reason to exist. It’s also very different from those superhero teams in the sense that they don’t bicker. They are a cohesive unit that seems to care for each other deeply. They are underutilized.
The action is over the top, but in the way superhero movies have primed our expectations and what you see now in all action movies. It’s good, but it’s not the main selling point of the movie.
What I actually loved was the way they approached society. Many movies try to put systematic problems on one person and then beat that person and everything is fine. Sure, there’s also a singular bad guy here, but at the same time, the problem is obviously shown to be systemic. The poor farmers are suffering, because the larger system wants to exploit them and they are largely defenseless. The publicly run hospitals don’t work, because the people running the system want their piece of the pie on everything. Democracy isn’t working, because people don’t vote for the right reasons.
The results are quite rosey, but it also is quite an open attack on the government in a big budget movie by one of the biggest stars in Bollywood. And that’s not nothing either. Shah Rukh Khan is a huge star on a scale we don’t see in the west. These people are revered and this particular Khan has hundreds of millions of followers.. When the Khans (just by coincidence, the biggest stars in Bollywood are all Khans, even though they are not related) speak, the people listen. I love that he is willing to put a movie like this out there. It’s not going to gain him any friends among people in power.
In my experience, this is a very progressive movie for India. There’s women in positions of power, there’s the idea that perhaps not all people in prison deserve to be there, and we shouldn’t let people suffer just because they are poor.
Otherwise, this is an Indian movie, so be prepared for 180 degree turns in tone, the breakneck speed at which certain things move forwards and dance sequences, which were actually surprisingly rare for a movie almost three hours long.