A Flying Jatt:

A Superhero Movie a la Bollywood

No one knows better than Sequart’s readership that there are tons of superhero movies out right now. Especially now, in fact, as high “popcorn movie” season, a/k/a summer, is just beginning. If you know the difference between DC and Marvel, have an opinion on various superhero-movie directors, and/or have ever posted a meme like this one,

then you owe it to yourself to sample A Flying Jatt, available streaming on Netflix.

If you’re unfamiliar with Bollywood—the Indian film industry–here’s all you really need to know to enjoy this gem.

1) Bollywood films tend to follow the “masala” formula (mixture of spices). They have a little of everything—drama, romance, song and dance numbers,

This big dance number from A Flying Jatt has almost 68 million views on YouTube!

comic relief, a villain, a wholesome moral message, beautiful people to watch, goofy sound effects, you name it. It’s the rare Hollywood movie that crams in all this diversity. Because there’s so much going on,

2) Bollywood films tend to run long. In recent years they’ve shortened a bit from their typical three hours plus. A Flying Jatt has a 2:31 running time, typical for now.

3) India is about 80% Hindu, 13% Muslim, and 7% everything else. Jatt focuses on the Sikh, a small minority nationwide that is mostly concentrated in the Punjab region in Northwest India. “Sardar-ji” (Sikh) jokes are unfortunately common in India; a rough equivalent in the USA would be Polack jokes.

4) India is much more conservative about kissing, dating, and sex than America—particularly on screen. Thus, here we have a beautiful 20ish woman excited about her “first kiss.” Bollywood films must pass through a board of censors; they truly are intended for the whole family.

5) Though most Americans don’t know Indian popular culture, Indians know ours. You’ll see all the references.

Jatt sets up the main conflict efficiently in the first few minutes. Evil corporate overlord Malhotra wants to push a small Sikh community out of their colony to accommodate his factory. As far as I can tell, the only purpose of this factory is to create lots of toxic pollution. The Sikhs won’t move or sell, because not only is it their home, but on this land sits a tree with the Sikh emblem mystically appearing on its bark.

Soon, the enormous Raaka, played by colossal Australian pro wrestler Nathan Jones, is beating up our hero Aman under that tree. (His size versus the Flying Jatt’s in the movie poster above is pretty close to scale.)

Nathan Jones with the rest of A Flying Jatt’s cast

Raaka pounds him hard against the symbol and VOILA! Aman becomes the Flying Jatt. Now he can fly, heal instantly, move so fast you can’t see him, and pound the hell out of bad guys. He launches Raaka into a pool of toxic slime, which then turns Raaka into his superpowered archnemesis.

From here on, the film explores two central themes in addition to the standard good-vs.-evil battle. First, it’s important that this superhero is Sikh specifically. Every good thing the Flying Jatt does functions as a kind of advertisement or PR for the Sikhs as a whole—and given the “Sardar-ji” ribbing, they can use it. There’s even a two-minute animated-film-within-the-film celebrating Sikh bravery in history. Second, the movie warns of the general danger of pollution. One less-than-completely-believable sequence shows, first, Raaka getting stronger and stronger as he ingests all manner of pollution; obviously there’s just more fuel for his powers around all the time.

Then, after some Sikhs (mostly kids) plant some trees and pick up some garbage, suddenly, Raaka’s powers quickly wane. The principle is there, if not a lot of convincing evidence. The most convincing detail is rather a stretch: Malhotra’s own young daughter falls ill, which instantly changes his cynical, polluting ways. He orders Raaka to stop—ineffectively.

We even get a couple of bonus minor themes: FJ’s unwillingness to publicly embrace the Sikh name and culture, which—could it be any other way?—he overcomes and proudly dons his heroic late father’s turban; and the sweet fraternal bond between FJ and his brother Rohit. FJ wears a costume with mask like any other superhero, and a Bollywood film generally has a romance—so of course our hero and heroine (Kirti, played by Jacqueline Fernandez) experience lots of awkward confusion over who she’s really in love with (FJ or down-to-earth Aman?), who’s wearing the suit right now (Aman or Rohit?), and so on.

Now, it’s not immortal cinema. Its writers will never be mistaken for Oscar Wilde. Its overall reader ratings on IMDB are 3.4/10, and the critics didn’t care for it much either. But we mostly watch superhero movies for the fun and the spectacle, right? A Flying Jatt offers spectacular fun in abundance, with a tasty masala topping you might just find addictive!

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Brian Cowlishaw grew up in rural Idaho, then earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Oklahoma in 1998. He has taught and published on many areas of literature and popular culture, especially science fiction and fantasy. He is a Harper Voyager Super Reader, reviewing advance reader copies for the publisher. He is a professor of English at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He is an avid gamer and a big fan of all things related to India. Email: cowlishb@nsuok.edu. Twitter: @BrianCowlishaw. Blog: biggora.blogspot.com.

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