An indigenous superhero who isn’t just generically Indian but a Sikh? Part of me says “What an idea, sir-ji,” while the other part wonders if what we need now is the celebration – rather, valourisation – of specific communities as saviours. (Whatever next? Captain Arora? Iyer Man?) But at least for a while, it’s easy to buy into A Flying Jatt, an origins story about a mild-mannered martial arts instructor Aman (Tiger Shroff) being imbued with special powers and transforming into the airborne Sardar of the title. Consider Aman’s costume, in the Sikh colours of blue/yellow and displaying the Khalsa symbol. It’s not the most elegant fit. It doesn’t define the contours of his body the way the costumes of American superheroes do. There’s a big, fat zipper down the back. The fingerless gloves have no hemming. But these rough edges are endearing, for this is a costume Aman’s mother (a spirited Amrita Singh) put together on her Usha sewing machine, as though her son were in the school play. It’s the superhero version of the doting Indian mother who’d welcome her son with a spoonful of gajar ka halwa, and it’s fun to see a mother so involved in her son’s “career.” And why not? Given his flying powers, how much easier it is now to ask him to pick up some vegetables. Of course, you wish she’d remembered to sew pockets on the outfit, so Aman could carry some money along. How embarrassing to descend grandly from the sky and then discover you cannot pay for do kilo lauki.
Parts of A Flying Jatt are genuinely sweet, and targeted at children (or the child in you that laughs when Aman grabs a rotund villain by the waist, only to have the latter fart under the super-pressure). There’s the scene where Aman uses his nunchaku to deflect balls hurled at him from a bowling machine. There’s the scene where Aman (who’s scared of heights) flies low enough to greet the people from his village, as though he were just cycling along lazily and waving to friends and neighbours. These scenes have a woozy, homespun charm, and we are repeatedly reminded of the low stakes. (Aman puts on his costume, touches his mother’s feet as the music swells, and… plops back on his bed with the remote.) No new ground is being broken here – forget being derivative; things get down to copyright-infringement levels when the film rips off the frozen-in-time scenes involving Quicksilver in the recent X-Men adventures – but the goofiness keeps things going. I especially enjoyed the running gag with Aman’s brother Rohit (a very funny Gaurav Pandey) getting to don the superhero costume. Every time, it’s a disaster.
I’d have been happy with a silly superhero movie, a real change from the unrelenting machismo we get from Hollywood’s offerings in this genre – but alas, there is a villain. No, not Kay Kay Menon, who plays an industrialist with a preference for ties that look like they’ve been assembled from shards of bathroom tiles. I refer to Raka (the seven-feet-tall wrestler Nathan Jones), a mythical/allegorical creature created from garbage. The more we trash the earth, the stronger he becomes. I wondered about the animated film that played over the opening credits, laying out the consequences of felling one tree and how the Flying Jatt reverses the ecological damage that follows – as it turns out, this is a compressed version of the story ahead. A Flying Jatt is the world’s first environmental-PSA-disguised-as-a-superhero-film, and it makes sense that the superpower-giver isn’t a god (as in Shiva Ka Insaaf, where Tiger’s dad played a superhero trained by men named Ram, Robert and Rahim, representing the major Indian religions; his weapon was a ring endowed with the powers of Shiva’s third eye) but a 200-year-old tree. In this film, green is god.
All of this is too much to entrust to Remo D’Souza, the director of the ABCD films. Yes, the writers are also to blame. They keep throwing at us groaning messages about keeping our surroundings clean, and they kill off a major character without realising this is completely at odds with the tone of the film. We’re caught off-guard: from silly to super-serious, faster than a speeding bullet. (Tiger Shroff, as always, moves like a dream, but he’s not an actor you want to hang a serious film on.) Every time A Flying Jatt lunges for drama, its gaping flaws are exposed. A number of contrivances are brought up – Aman begins to hear voices of those in pain; he is ashamed of being a Sikh – but not resolved with conviction. D’Souza’s staging is awful. After Rustom and A Flying Jatt, I wouldn’t be surprised if film schools in the country started new classes like ‘Reaction Shots 1o1’ and ‘How To Film A Crowd Scene Without Making People Look Like They Were Caught In The Shower’. But why blame the extras when we have Nathan Jones, determined to reduce every scene to two simple actions (open mouth wide; bellow), and Jacqueline Fernandez as a ditzy schoolteacher? (In her inexplicable accent, Waheguru sounds like a psychedelic rock band.) Did I mention A Flying Jatt was 151 minutes long? After a point, my body was making up its own movie: A Crying Butt.
- Jatt = see here
- gajar ka halwa = carrot halwa
- do kilo lauki = two kilos of bottlegourd
- the recent X-Men adventures = see here; and here
- Shiva Ka Insaaf = see here
- ABCD films = see here
- Waheguru = see here
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.