Jawan vs. Jailer: Battle Royal

We’ve seen the release of two big budget movie releases this summer: Rajinikanth’s Jailer and Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan, our desi version of the Barbie vs Oppenheimer battle. Which is better? India Currents investigates.

Best first half 

Both movies have an enjoyable first half. Jawan starts out at high voltage with a very clever train heist – one which requires you to believe that turning all lights to green at a traffic signal in India will actually cause any more mayhem than current driving behavior. Shah Rukh Khan, the instigator of the heist, is the leader of a band of six women. He is also a jailer, and the women are inmates (wrongly convicted, of course).  It’s vaguely reminiscent of Chak De! India. Instead of playing hockey, the gang steals from the rich to give to the poor. 

Much debate has ensued on whether SRK is making a political statement through Jawan. The bad guy is a rich businessman, Kalee (Vijay Sethupathi). The heists explore the nexus between big business and government, and farmers’ issues. Then there’s a rousing speech exhorting people to vote. (Though the last made me wonder if voter apathy was the real issue in India). The movie walks a tightrope; it’s hard to tell which are real political statements, and which are generic Bollywood tropes.

Jailer starts out much more lowkey. A retired Rajinikanth is being bullied by his six-year-old grandson into making YouTube videos. His son, a police officer, is investigating the very 80’s crime of stealing statues from temples. The culprit is a menacing villain who kills his enemies by dunking them in barrels of sulfuric acid. It’s all over the top and completely apolitical.

Winner: Jailer. The YouTube video segments are outright hilarious. 

Best post-interval flashback

Both movies have several twists and overly long second halves. 

In Jailer, Rajini’s son disappears and Rajini gets sucked into fighting the villain. We learn via flashback that before retirement, Rajini used to be–gasp, like Shah Rukh–a jailer.  This means that he too has a ready-made network of ex-inmates to do his bidding. In his case, they are all fearsome and murderous, nothing like the plucky women SRK employs. These are not your dad’s “Soorma Bhopali” jailers, people.

Post interval, Jawan reveals the existence of a whole new character: SRK has a soldier father with a personal history with the villainous Kalee. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why they needed this character to be alive, and why the original SRK was not quite enough by himself. The older SRK does get to spout the best line of the movie though: “Bete ko haath lagane se pehle baap se baat kar (You have to get past the father before you touch the son)”, widely believed to be a veiled reference to the Oct 2021 arrest of SRK’s son Aryan Khan.

Winner: Jailer by a narrow margin. If you like showy set pieces where actors blow things up in spectacular fashion and squash faces like melons, then you’ll enjoy the second half. If you, like me, are looking at your watch by the 15th gory showdown, then Jailer’s tongue-in-cheek attitude makes the experience more bearable. 

Stars Galore

Apparently savvy marketing strategy nowadays dictates that you pack your movie with as many big stars from as many parts of India as possible. This way you get to tap into multiple fan bases. Stunt casting reigns supreme in both movies.

Jawan has: Vijay Sethupathi (Tamil), Nayanthara (all four South Indian languages), Sanjay Dutt (Hindi)

Jailer has: Shivarajkumar (Kannada) Mohanlal (Malayalam) Jackie Shroff (Hindi)

Winner: Audience. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed seeing multiple movie stars for the price of one.

Box office verdict

Both movies were more similar than I expected, but it’s hard to surpass Shah Rukh Khan’s fan base.

Winner: Jawan. On day 8, the movie’s box office collection worldwide had surpassed U.S. $78 million; it took Jailer over a month to get to that figure, according to trade pundits.

Sandhya Char has been contributing to India Currents since 2002. Her work has appeared in several publications including in India West, India Post, Rediff/India abroad, ComputerEdge magazine and Shadowed...