The politics of 'Kali Gaikwad' as Jawan's villain

Although Atlee gives us an unforgettable saviour in Vikram Rathod, I can’t help but ask a pertinent question to the writer-director: Why is his nemesis, a criminal, called Kali Gaikwad?
 Vijay Sethupathi in Jawan
Vijay Sethupathi in JawanScreengrab / Jawan trailer
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What happens when a blockbuster film asks all the correct questions through the biggest superstars of our times, making you dance, swoon, and have Shah Rukh Khan’s voice course through your veins? That is what director Atlee’s Jawan, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, and Deepika Padukone, and with music by Anirudh does. In a scene where Shah Rukh Khan asks for taaliyaan (claps), there is no taaliyaan in that hijacked metro in the film, but a recurring applause sounds in the single screen theatre of Gaiety, Bandra. Ah! My face was flushed. Jawan is not a film, it is a conversation starter. 

Jawan, which made Rs 797 crores at the box office, is not just any film — it is one that shows that Atlee has his eyes on the social and political environment of the country, be it farm loans, poor medical infrastructure, or our choice of leaders. Jawan appeals to its audience to understand the power of our voting rights. Although Atlee gives us an unforgettable saviour in Vikram Rathod, I can’t help but ask a very pertinent question to the writer-director: Why is his nemesis, a criminal, called Kali Gaikwad?

Kali is a dark-skinned man, with Gaikwad as his surname. A basic Google search will show that Gaikwad (also spelt Gaikwar and Gaekwad) is a surname native to Maharashtra and found among the Marathas(OBC), Kolis, (SC), Bharadis (ST) Dhor, (SC) and Mahar (SC) communities of Maharashtra.

Played impeccably by Vijay Sethupathi, Kali Gaikwad reminded me of Bad Boy Billionaires, an investigative docu series that explored the greed, fraud, and corruption of India's infamous fugitives. The series documents Vijay Mallya, Subrata Roy, and Nirav Modi — all fugitives, who, incidentally, are also people from dominant caste backgrounds and have run away with thousands of crores of public money. The State is said to have been working hand in glove with them to facilitate their escape, as shown in the film. A resonant sight, it appears.

Gaikwad's social location becomes representative of a marginalised community with a history of systematic caste/class/gender oppression. They have historically been branded and stereotyped by a lowered gaze that defined them as a ‘typical’ criminal. While I love Atlee’s storytelling, the way he plots his stories, and the kind of detail he embodies in his characterisation, it is advisable to also understand where Gaikwads come from, and the histories of the marginalised. 

On a complimentary note, one also needs to know who Rathore is. Again, a simple Google search will throw up the following — Rathod (Rathor or Rathore) is an Indian Rajput dynasty that has historically ruled over parts of Rajastha, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. In the film, Shah Rukh Khan is that saviour Rathod.

If we look at Altee’s filmography, we will find a pattern to his storytelling and a unique formula that really works. The hero is always a righteous, morally upright, good-looking saviour, often a public servant – a doctor, a policeman, a jailor, an army man, or even a sportsman – who is also an incredible son, father, lover, and family man who poses critical patriotic questions and is a dissenting citizen of India. Atlee’s heroes are often angry common men who are upset with the rampant social injustice and evils of the society who take over the role of a vigilante, often to avenge murders and deaths. He dramatically enlarges the scope of his protagonists by giving his heroes double and triple roles.

What’s also very unique to Atlee’s storytelling is the way he crafts and introduces his characters. The signature background scores and costume details uplift the characterisation. Remember Vikram Rathod’s lion ring and his bandaged face? 

Shah Rukh Khan takes pride in his masculinity and yet is in touch with his feminine side and that’s what Vikram Rathod, who has been raised amongst women, is all about. He is in touch with his feminine side, which you see symbolically in his team, an ensemble cast of Sanya Malhotra, Girija Oak, Priyamani, Lehar Khan, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, Aaliya, and Riddhi Dogra. Deepika Padukone made us shed tears all the way. 

Anirudh’s music is worth mentioning. “Chaleya” sung by Arijit Singh and Shilpa Rao reminded me of Shaad Ali’s “Saathiya”. This song felt like a stream of light and love. Also, what’s refreshing is that this is not some young romance — here is a man who is ready to take on anything, in fact, he pushes the state. 

The dialogues by Sumit Arora were absolutely a joy to hear, encapsulating power, love, and retaliation that’s so symbolic. In the climax, when Shah Rukh Khan says, “Bete ko haath lagane se pahle, baap se baat kar!” Breaking the resilient silence that King Khan maintained through the difficult times in the past, the father and the artist have spoken. 

Jawan’s heart is in the right place but the gaze is not. A fabulous film still. The audience gets to experience the super stardom of Shah Rukh Khan embodying Vikram Rathod — sexy, suave, emotional, smoking a cigar in his salt and pepper hair and tanned skin had me sink in my chair. The film has everything — Shah Rukh’s charm, high-speed shots, silhouettes, action that gives you an adrenaline rush, and a soundscape to die for. Also not to miss, a great edit. The action choreography too is excellent. Oh, how I have fallen in love with mainstream cinema all over again!

Jyoti Nisha is a multi disciplinary professional — an academic, writer, screenwriter, and filmmaker with a focus on cinema, gaze, caste, gender, and media. Her feature length documentary film Dr BR Ambedkar: Now & Then, which she is co-producing with Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions, is set to release soon. 

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