Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Flying Jatt: Review

A Flying Jatt gives viewers a modern-day superhero in the mould of Sikh warriors. It’s a neat idea, but I couldn’t help feeling like the makers had missed out on a few ready possibilities. Superman ruined the kachera for all future crime-fighters, but where’s the Jatt’s magic kirpan? Tiger Shroff’s kesh are already magical, but imagine the comic potential in a special superhero kanga. It’s an indication of the film’s increasingly bizarre decision-making that they would take the least cinematic of the five articles of faith—the kada—and fashion an explosive moment around it.

Still, credit must be given where credit is due: director Remo D’Souza and screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani manage to situate their hero in a believable (if outrightly comic) local context, something that previous Hindi films in this genre have generally failed to do. Aman (Shroff) is a martial arts instructor who wakes up one morning after being pummelled in a dream by a large bald man to find that he has acquired superpowers. There are some delightful touches once his family realizes he can do just about anything physically imaginable. His mother lovingly fashions a suit for him on her sewing machine; later on, Aman (who assumes the moniker of “Flying Jatt”) is told to pick up lauki on his flight back home.

To begin a superhero film with a plaintive song about the environment may seem like an unusual choice, but pollution isn’t just a major theme in A Flying Jatt, it’s literally the villain. The bald brawler who appears in Aman’s nightmare is buried under toxic waste. In comic book tradition, what doesn’t kill you makes you a supervillain; in this case, one who grows stronger with every sniff of exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke (for once, that painful “smoking kills” warning seemed justified). Raka (former wrestler Nathan Jones) is resurrected and employed by crooked businessman Malhotra (Kay Kay Menon)—who’s been trying to acquire the land owned by Aman’s family—to kill the Jatt.

All this might suggest that D’Souza and Hiranandani have created a fairly original superhero. Nothing could be further from the truth. The most obvious powers of Flying Jatt—enhanced strength, speed and flight—are the same as Superman’s. He can hear the voices of faraway people in distress, again like Superman, but also like Daredevil. The climactic fight between Raka and Flying Jatt is very likely inspired by the battle in Superman IV. Raka levitates like Magneto and, though he looks more like an evil Sabu, he shares a name with the villain in the Chacha Chaudhary comic series. And the scene in which our hero seemingly stops time during a tense stand-off and zips around rearranging things is a shameless lift from the Quicksilver scenes in the two most recent X-Men movies.

Thievery is par for the course in big-budget Indian action films, but A Flying Jatt commits a bigger offence: It runs out of ideas and—rather fittingly for an environmentally conscious film—begins to recycle. The first half of the film is silly but quite watchable, with Shroff happy to play both clown and masked saviour. After the interval, though, the repetitions begin. We’ve already seen Aman’s brother, Rohit (Gaurav Pandey), put on the suit and pretend to be the Jatt; it’s funny the first time, but then we’re given the same routine again, and again. It’s established early on, then reiterated, that Aman’s love, Kirti, is a bit of a character, which is perfect for Jacqueline Fernandez, whose ability to play anything more than bits of characters has always been in doubt. We understand that Raka feeds on fumes; those pollution montages that look like the world’s worst grunge video are entirely unnecessary.

Amrita Singh is funny as Aman’s mother; her utter Punjabi-ness throws into sharp relief how un-Punjabi Shroff is. Still, I doubt authenticity will matter much to Shroff fans, who will likely be thrilled to see all his regular tricks—martial arts, dancing, slapstick—incorporated in the superhero narrative. A Flying Jatt is derivative, sloppily structured and, especially in its later stages, tacky beyond belief. That it might also be the best Indian superhero film ever (barring Mr India, if that qualifies) is an indication of how low the bar is set.

This review appeared in Mint.

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