Still from 'Jawan'© Red Chillies Entertainment

Is SRK’s ‘Jawan’ The Feminist Action Film We’ve Been Waiting For?

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

After shutting down his many haters with Pathaan earlier this year, Shah Rukh Khan is doubling down on the claims that he’s truly back with the recently released Jawan. Although, he never really went anywhere if you look at his scene-stealing cameos in movies like Brahmastra or Rocketry. 

Atlee’s Jawan presents SRK as the action hero who is bringing back the anti-establishment, angry not-so-young man to Bollywood. Jawan is great for many reasons, including the many avatars of SRK, the foot-tapping BGM, the super-stylised action sequences, a formidable villain in Vijay Sethupathi, and whistle-inducing dialogues.

Vijay Sethupathi in a still from 'Jawan'©Red Chillies Entertainment

It’s also a rare example of a mainstream Bollywood movie starring a major superstar taking a firm political stance in recent times. However, the film also scores major points for finally giving us a Bollywood action movie where women kick a*s and take names at the drop of a hat.

This is not to say that we haven’t had solid female action heroines in Bollywood. Katrina Kaif’s Zoya in the Tiger franchise and Deepika Padukone’s Rubina in Pathaan have made the case for more women-led action films. However, there’s something super refreshing about the girl power of Jawan.

There’s no doubt that the movie is a star vehicle. SRK gets multiple cinematic entries, set to a rousing theme song, and *SPOILER ALERT* he is the one who ultimately takes down the bad guy with help from a special cameo that I won’t reveal because it’s truly the highlight of the film. Despite it being an SRK celebration, Jawan doesn’t sideline its (many) female characters.

Still from 'Jawan'©Red Chillies Entertainment

SRK might be the only mega Bollywood star who is unafraid to let women shine in well-fleshed-out roles on screen. Whether it was Kabir Khan who let the rag-tag team of hockey players steal the show in Chak De! India or Jehangir Khan in Dear Zindagi whose dialled-back performance as the therapist kept the spotlight on Alia Bhatt’s Kaira. It’s evident that the superstar knows that he shines best when he is surrounded by strong women who might be flawed but can take care of themselves in the end.

Jawan follows SRK as a wisecracking vigilante who fights for social justice with his team of women who are super skilled in taking down men twice their size or even bringing a whole city to its knees with just a few clicks of the keys on their laptops.

Still from 'Jawan'©Red Chillies Entertainment

On their maiden mission, a Metro train hijacking, we’re introduced to Inspector Narmada (Nayanthara) who is tasked with negotiating the release of the hostage with the masked hijacker. Nayanthara, who is making her Bollywood debut with Jawan, shines in the role of a no-nonsense police officer who can hold her own against a criminal who has reduced grown men to whimpering messes. There is no false machismo to her character.

Nayanthara in a still from 'Jawan'©Red Chillies Entertainment

Narmada is not someone who needs to be overtly loud or act tough to make her presence felt. The character’s journey, though predictable, is incredibly satisfying to watch. A scene where she spars with SRK is worth special mention!

While Narmada might be the star, even getting the main romantic subplot with multiple songs, a post-interval twist introduces us to Aishwarya (Deepika Padukone) who quickly becomes a major highlight of the film.

Deepika Padukone in a still from 'Jawan'©Red Chillies Entertainment

Without giving away too many spoilers, Padukone’s radiant screen presence and ability to use her eyes to convey a thousand words lend a steel backbone to this key character.

Then there are the women who allow SRK’s Azaad to pull off outlandish schemes to rectify all social evils and take on the bad guy. Azaad’s gang of six comprises women who have had their lives destroyed by evils like corruption, apathy, and greed.

Still from 'Jawan'©Red Chillies Entertainment

The women (a brilliant group comprising Sanya Malhotra, Priyamani, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, Girija Oak, Lehar Khan, and Aaliyah Qureshi) are fuelled by the pain they carry within themselves and channel it in a way that allows them to leave a better world for other people who might be in the same circumstances as them. Like in Chak De! India, SRK becomes their mentor, guiding them into taking the rage at the unfair cards dealt to them by society and converting them into something beautiful, albeit a bit more violently than in the Shimit Amin directorial.

Still from 'Jawan'©Red Chil

SRK’s character, like the real-life star, is unashamedly proud of the fact that he is who he is because of the women in his life. His foster mother Kaveri amma (Ridhi Dogra) is also a pillar of strength for him, aside from benign a cheeky reference to a similar character with the same name in his 2004 movie Swades.

Is Jawan a perfect movie? Not by a long shot. The story seems disjointed and the romance subplot seems half-baked. However, it’s a massively entertaining movie that leaves you stunned with its strong political messaging. It also helps that it leaves you wishing for someone to make a spin-off featuring the gang of six and their adventures.

What did you think of Jawan?