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Flying Jatt, A
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by Jay Seaver

"The same strengths and weaknesses of golden-age comics, plus songs."
3 stars

"A Flying Jatt" doesn't have the same sort of scale or budget as an American superhero movie, but in part because of that, the film plays as a charming throwback to the origins of the genre. It's often silly and is not particularly worried about being seen as kid-oriented, things that sometimes seem to terrify both the film and comic divisions of Marvel and DC. It gives good and evil appropriate powers and costumes and lets them fight it out, and it's surprising how many superhero stories miss that basic appeal.

This one opens with the villain, Malhotra (Kay Kay Menon), who is very upset that the transport costs from his polluting chemical plant are so high, apparently because the plot of land they need to build a bridge across the lake is occupied by a tree which has a sacred symbol occurring naturally in its bark, but the owner - Bebe Dhillon (Amrita Singh) - not only refuses to sell, but is downright abusive, especially after a few drinks, needing to be held back by her sons Rohit (Gaurav Pandey) and Aman (Tiger Shroff). Though the latter is a martial-arts teacher at the local school, few really feel he takes after his late father, known as "The Flying Jatt" for being the first Sikh to learn kung fu at Shaolin Temple. But when Aman fights Malhotra's gigantic Australian hired gun Raka (Nathan Jones) at the tree, he comes away with the abilities of a superhero - although things like his crippling fear of heights may hold him back.

The thing where Aman spends a lot of time flying about a meter from the ground is one of the more quietly funny bits of a film that runs long enough to be a great many things, as many Bollywood movies do, and that sort of silliness is an area where it excels. The montage of terrible potential costumes is a bit of a bore (future filmmakers should consider retiring this obligatory sequence unless they have a really clever take on it), but the slapstick and secret-identity hijinks that ensue tend to be fairly entertaining.

At their best, they are helped by the amiable leads. Tiger Shroff plays the empowered dork quite well, spending a fair amount of time being exaggerated nice and not entirely sure about his invulnerability but not allowing it to become a parody; he and director Remo D'Souza also find the sweet spot where the put-upon nice guy is able to act out a bit thanks to the powers and mask without becoming a jerk more often than not. There's also a nice bit where the film winks at the bit where fellow teacher Kirti, played by Jacqueline Fernandez, would be a lot more conventionally hot if she took her hair out of pigtails and lost the oversized glasses, but doesn't because the nerdy accouterments match her pretty well. She dives into that characterization without much moderation, as does Amrita Singh as Aman's mother, although not nearly as much as the scenery-chewing Nathan Jones. That guy gives the performance you'd expect from a strongman and former wrestler who gets called when the most important part of a role is "huge and muscular" being directed by a guy whose native language has different rhythms than his English lines, but it kind of works because he's a comic book super-villain.

Not everyone will go for the earnest simplicity of D'Souza's comic book stylings - and when the action pauses for a moment toward the end to put a moral on the screen, complete with attribution to "Remo", even those who do may think it's a bit much - but the man knows what he's trying to communicate. Anybody who objects to a movie about a man who gets superpowers from a tree battling one who gets powers from pollution having an obvious message should probably not be watching this sort of thing at all; they'll just get upset at the pair yelling at each other as they battle in outer space anyway. The dialogue that makes this inevitable is very ham-fisted, especially add other bits of foreshadowing are executed far better despite being just as obvious.

Given that he came up in Bollywood as a choreographer (and made his mark as a director with the Anybody Can Dance movies), it's probably not surprising that he's good at visuals and broad themes but tends to get tripped up on dialogue and detail. It's also a bit of a shame that the film only has the major dance numbers, with only the opener playing like a part of the movie rather than cutting to a music video, because they aren't bad numbers. It's not surprising that D"Souza doesn't do badly with Shroff's martial arts (though he's not going to get much positive comparison to the greats), but is a little wobbly with the bigger sci-fi action. His screenplay is very lazy at times, never more so than when showing clips of US superhero movies to set up weak "doesn't have that power" jokes that might be cut once lawyers see the movie.

I enjoyed "A Flying Jatt"; for its many faults in execution, it cuts right through to the original core appeal of superhero stories, even if much of the genre's current audience feels that they have outgrown it. It's entertaining in the way 1930s-1950s superhero comics are, even if you likely wouldn't make comics (or moies) that way today, at least in America.

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originally posted: 08/31/16 04:20:30
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  26-Aug-2016 (MA)

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