For mother, god and country, in that order: A Flying Jatt borrows heavily from Hollywood superhero films but its heart is fully Indian.
Remo D’Souza’s action comedy, co-written by Tushar Hiranandani, presents a preternaturally gifted fighting-and-dancing hero who is devoted to his mother, falls for a woman who is well endowed but lacks grey cells, believes in public service and is child-friendly. The younger viewers targetted by the movie may just miss the Hollywood references that litter the screenplay. There’s the sequence stolen from X-Men: Days of Future Past in which Quicksilver freezes time and toys with people and objects to the tune of Time in a Bottle. The housing colony set up by Mrs Dhillon (Amrita Singh), the mother of future superhero Aman (Tiger Shroff), is modelled on the settlement from Kung Fu Hustle, with the alcohol-swilling Dhillon replacing the chain-smoking landlady from the original.
Characters and themes from the Superman films, the X-Men franchise, Kick-Ass and several other Hollywood productions are also packed into A Flying Jatt, but D’Souza’s movie is at least open about its influences. In a moment of comic self-deprecation, Aman, his mother and best friend Rohit (Gaurav Pandey) settle down with a stack of Hollywood movie DVDs to coach Aman in appropriate superheroic behaviour and design an appropriate costume for him.
The one that Dhillon’s sewing machine spews out indicates just how local this other-worldly hero really is: it’s an update on a Sikh warrior’s traditional deep blue robes and prominently displays the Khalsa symbol. In Hollywood, superhero behaviour is excavated from within the soul. In Bollywood, it takes a pushy mother and the hand of God to discover the masked crusader within all of us.
If it wasn’t for the Waheguru’s blessings, Aman may have remained a good-hearted martial arts teacher at a local school rather than the saviour of Punjab. It all begins when the evil oligarch Malhotra (Kay Kay Menon), who runs several polluting industries, wants to build a bridge through Aman’s housing colony. Only the fire-spewing Mrs Dhillon and a sacred tree stand in the way.
Raka (Nathan Jones), a man built like a small mountain, is dispatched to pummel Aman out of existence, but a moment of divine intervention unleashes his inner demons even as it uncorks Aman’s secret chi. Aman can now fly – but only low, since he is afraid of heights – and hear voices of anguish in his head like Charles Xavier from the X-Men films. Aman overcomes his initial bumbling to become a crime fighter because it is what his mother wants from him, and he also woos the air-headed Kriti (Jacqueline Fernandez) on the side because the movie needs a few romantic numbers to draw in the crowds.
Raka derives his strength from environmental pollution – an excuse for the filmmakers to throw in plugs for tree-planting campaigns and the government’s Swacch Bharat campaign. A Flying Jatt won’t count as among the best Indian attempts to localise a very American genre (that honour still belongs to Mr India and Krrish) but it will certainly be listed alongside the recent hit Dishoom as a movie that weaves state social welfare propaganda into its script.
The cartoon strip treatment extends to the characters. Despite his size and deep voice, Raka resembles a villain in a school play about ecological damage. Jones makes his entry in a desert, where he lies buried under sand for no reason other than to remind viewers of his recent screen appearance as Erectus Rictus in Mad Max: Fury Road. Summoned by Malhotra to knock some sense into Aman, Raka lumbers about the cardboard sets and screams out his lungs in order to be heard above the pounding background score. Kay Kay Menon tries to make his minuscule role count, and Gaurav Pandey and Amrita Singh cash in their pay cheques too, but it’s the movie’s lead actor who manages to rise halfway above the rubble.
The early portions of Aman adjusting to his newfound powers have their moments of childish fun and showcase Tiger Shroff’s growing confidence. A cross between Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and the average star kid who is on the screen because he has nowhere else to go, Shroff has unconventional looks, an adolescent voice, a supremely fit body and rubbery limbs, and a cheesy sincerity that elicits snark and admiration in equal measure. The poorly shot and edited sequences don’t do justice to Shroff’s nimble footwork, and the hodgepodge storytelling doesn’t let his character to grow a shadow. Yet, Shroff’s gum-baring smile and enviable ability to perform splits and somersaults partially elevate the shabbily shot action scenes and chintzy visual effects, which belong to the Superman films from the 1970s.
Shroff’s earnestness doesn’t leave its director untouched. The go-for-broke climax catapults Aman and Raka into deep space and ends with a quote attributed to one Remo: “Everything has an alternative. Except Mother Earth.”
Coming at the end of 151 minutes, some of them well spent and some of them wasted, this bumper sticker sentiment mirrors the film’s endeavours. A Flying Jatt is clearly designed as a franchise in the making, and a sequel to Aman’s adventures on the ground and in the sky is probably already being scribbled on the back of a napkin. Aman has his mother to egg him on, the blessings of his god, and an undemanding and non-challenging woman by his side. Since he also has a healthy stash of Hollywood DVDs, it’s clear that this Indian superhero is set for a bright future.