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Is Jawan a ‘propaganda film’? It is… for Brand Shah Rukh Khan | Bollywood


Note: The following piece contains minor spoilers.

Shah Rukh Khan in and as Jawan and Tigmanshu Dhulia as Ramadhir Singh in Gangs of Wasseypur
Shah Rukh Khan in and as Jawan and Tigmanshu Dhulia as Ramadhir Singh in Gangs of Wasseypur

The great philosopher Ramadhir Singh – clearly channelling the views of his creator, the seminal auteur Anurag Kashyap – explained succinctly the problem with India (and gave a brief history of Hindi cinemas) when asked why none of his bumbling enemies had ever been able to kill him.

He explained to his coterie: “Kahe ki hum sanima nahin dekhte hain. Jab mein chota thaa, sab jaye dekhe Ganga Jamuna and sab chaye banna Dilip Kumar. Ladkio ka pasand thaa Dev Anand. Uske baad ladkio ko pasand aaya Rajesh Khanna aur ladko ko Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan. Aur aaj kal kya hai, woh bahut acha sa naam hai… Salman Khan. Aur Sunil aur Nargis ka laundua Sanjay Dutt. Sab saale, sabke dimaag mein apni apni picture chal rahi hai. Sab saale hero banna cha rahe hain apni picture mein. Is desh mein jab tak sanima hai, log c____ bante rahenge.”

(The reason that I am not dead yet is because I don’t watch cinema. When I was young, everyone went to watch Ganga Jamuna, and everyone wanted to be Dilip Kumar. And the girls liked Dev Anand. After that, the girls liked Rajesh Khanna, and the boys preferred Amitabh Bachchan. Now the times have changed – now you have Salman Khan and Sunil and Nargis Dutt’s son Sanjay Dutt. The thing is, everyone has his own cinema running in his head, and everyone wants to be a hero. As long as we’ve cinema in this country, people will continue to be f_____).

While it’s universally true that everyone has a movie going on in their head in which they are the noble hero and protagonist, the genius of Jawan’s screenplay is that the setting is so ambiguously vast that everyone has a different movie going on in their head while watching it. Jawan is your own personal propaganda film because everyone – depending upon their availability heuristic that shapes their political worldview – is seeing their own film.

For fans of the current regime, Jawan is a sad tale of what India used to be like before the current “head of state” took over, and Jawan’s fiscally suicidal actions are simply an out-of-the-system guy trying to do what the Prime Minister is doing through the system by fixing the country’s healthcare, prehistoric farming norms and other malaises that plague the country.

For supporters of the Opposition, Jawan is a brutal critique of the current “fascist” regime and the thousand tyrannies it has unleashed all over the country on the poorest of the poor while handing over every state asset to rich cronies.

For those who hate capitalism – while benefiting from all the fruits that only a post-capitalist society that worships Mammon provides – it’s an anti-industrialist movie. On the other hand, for capitalists, it’s a siren song because the movie has more onscreen sponsors than an IPL tournament.

For hardcore Shah Rukh Khan fans, it was a message to Sameer Wankhede that one should think twice before touching one’s filus.

For the geniuses that run RW propaganda channels that find anti-Hindu conspiracies in every single scene ever released by Bollywood, including seeing the silhouette of slave traders in Bollywood item numbers, Shah Rukh Khan’s bald alter-ego is a personal rebuke against their follicularly-challenged cofounder.

For those from the other side of the Vindhyas, the villain’s terribly stilted Hindi is a strong against rebuke against “Hinthi imposition”.

I could go on and on, but you get the point that the great philosopher Ramadhir Singh made: Sabke dimaag mein apna apna sanima chal raha hai.

Now, after reading 10,000 reviews, which included everyone’s favourite psephologist saying it taught him the “truth of his fantasies”, one reviewer imagining his pipe dream about his favourite former anchor and another from my favourite feminist website where a farrago of a sentence was crammed with so many polysyllabic hifalutin words that it would make Shashi Tharoor wince.

Now, what I liked about Jawan is that it combines the best of cinema from every region, a national integration effort that’s actually watchable, at least eminently more than Pathaan whose success suggests that the AI-fuelled Chat GPT takeover which will hasten the march towards singularity can’t come quickly enough.

For starters, Jawan shows Shah Rukh Khan combine the virtues of the three big Bollywood Khans: we’ve Aamir Khan’s sanctimonious Satyamev Jayate preaching, Salman Khan’s over-the-top swagger and Shah Rukh Khan’s inimitable personal charm where the hero’s cute, dimpled smile is enough to make women go weak in the knees.

Then we’ve got the over-the-top filmmaking with larger-than-life action sequences that are the staple of many Rajinikanth movies.

The screenplay is taut – borrowing liberally from modern-day classics like Money Heist – and moves at a pace that never lets the user use his grey matter, which is what movies should be about because when anyone goes to the theatre, they want to be entertained, not get a lecture on the lack of intersectionality in the field of Trans-Dalit Scholarship. Even the Trans-Dalit scholar doesn’t want to see that. And Jawan – even if your political ideology is borrowed from Salman Khan’s legendary apna kya lena dena tweet – is an entertaining watch, and that’s all that matters. The makers were even clever enough to hide SRK’s visage in many scenes, clearly to cut down on CGI costs of de-aging him from one scene to another. On the other hand, Shah Rukh Khan has so many different looks in the movie that it would probably send Anushka Sharma’s character from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi into a schizophrenic frenzy.

As an interesting tangent, one has often found that Shah Rukh Khan fans often feel the need to over-intellectualise his movies, to find some hidden meaning in his onscreen pursuits. Unlike, say Salman fans, who are far more intellectually honest and watch Bhai’s movies to try to replicate his hairstyle, do bicep curls, or do a wheelie, SRK fans think that his onscreen presence is a solution for their real-life problems, whether it’s one’s inability to find a partner or topple the current government.

Of course, Shah Rukh Khan, the consummate businessman, is too smart for these petty games, as evidenced by his cozying up to the current regime by lending his voice to the new parliament or lauding the Prime Minister for the G20 Summit. Those who have listened to him over the years know that, at least among Bollywood, he’s one of the smartest chaps around, one who can actually read and think, and if India had a Scorsese or Tarantino, Shah Rukh’s obvious thespian qualities could’ve been used to create far superior cinema. Alas, that’s something that will probably remain a wet dream.

However, one has to tip one’s hat to the businessman SRK for managing to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds at the same time, as he milks udders on both sides of the political divide. To paraphrase one of his most iconic lines: Haar kar jeetne waale ko bazigar kehte hain, aur jo haar jeet dono se paisa kamaye, use businessman.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are personal.


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