You owe it to yourself to watch the best new movie on Netflix: the genre-bending Hindi thriller Jawan.
Starring global mega-star Shah Rukh Khan, who made his triumphant return to Bollywood earlier in 2023 with the spy thriller Pathaan, Jawan is an action thriller of epic scale that truly runs the gamut of cinematic spectacle. Slick action sequences? Check. Passionate romances? Check. Compelling revenge story? Check. Groovy dance sequences? Check. An inspiring “power to the people” message? Check, check, and check. It’s a great example of a masala film, a style of Indian movie that blends genres to create an experience that appeals to the widest audience possible.
Jawan’s setup is probably best described as “Robin Hood meets Charlie’s Angels.” The movie opens with a man (Khan) and a group of women hijacking a metro train. Their demand: money from the Agriculture Minister, to pay back farmers harmed by his policies. In most Hollywood movies, these would be the bad guys — it’s a classic “Their goals are noble, but they go too far!” situation. But in Jawan, there’s no such settling for antiheroism — these people are unquestionably the heroes of this story.
Khan excels as the lead, showing the charm and swagger that made him the biggest movie star in the world. The 58-year-old actor plays a man who seems 20 years younger with ease and conviction, pulling together the movie’s many threads with his irresistible charisma. Vijay Sethupathi supports him as yet another classically despicable villain (joining his standout performances in Vikram, Master, and Petta), with strong supporting roles from Nayanthara (Maya, Annaatthe) as a police officer chasing Khan’s character and his partners in crime, each of whom has a distinct reason for taking drastic action. Khan’s Pathaan co-star Deepika Padukone also shows up for a brief but deeply powerful role as a mother put in an impossible position.
Jawan takes a holistic look at the harm done to a country’s people when business interests infect their government. In the movie, the partnership of capital and government compromises India’s health care, agriculture, military, and environment. Jawan director Atlee has touched on this theme before — his movie Mersal (also on Netflix) is a great thriller about the evils of for-profit health care. But in Jawan, he takes a more complete perspective on the many ways corporate interests are at odds with the people’s interests.
It’s an impressive feat for a movie with this much on its mind to also be so wildly fun and entertaining, but that’s part of what made Jawan such a massive hit. It’s the highest-grossing Indian release of the year and the second-highest-grossing Hindi film ever. Now that it’s on Netflix, don’t miss it.