There are a lot of interesting moral lessons under the glossy, colorful surface of A Flying Jatt. One aspect that has stuck with me since watching the fun superhero movie is how the film portrays the main character’s struggle with his religious faith.
The religiosity of characters is underplayed in Hollywood films in general, but it’s especially absent from the backstories of Hollywood superheroes. Their powers come from science (Spider-man) or space (Superman) or magic (Doctor Strange). Rarely are their powers divine in origin, with perhaps the exception of Thor.
In contrast, all of India’s celluloid superheroes — few as they are — have ties to the divine (I confess, I don’t remember Drona‘s origin story). Krrish‘s powers came from an alien, but the hero’s name is a derivation of Krishna. The villain in Ra.One is a creation of science (as is the hero, G.One), but his name is a play on the demon Ravana. Their stories are explicitly related to Hinduism.
A Flying Jatt is even more overtly religious than the Krrish films or Ra.One in that the hero’s powers are divine in origin. When threatened by an evil industrialist (played by Kay Kay Menon, also the villain in Drona) who wants to tear down a tree that bears a Sikh Khanda symbol, Aman (Tiger Shroff) prays to the tree for help. In a subsequent fight with the industrialist’s goon (played by Nathan Jones), Aman is slammed against the tree. A light shines, and the Khanda symbol is branded onto Aman’s flesh. Then lightning strikes, imbuing Aman with superpowers and launching his foe far enough away to give Aman time to master his new abilities before a climactic showdown.
What’s significant about Aman’s story arc is that, before the miracle at the tree, Aman doesn’t identify as religious (to the chagrin of his pious mother). He keeps his hair short and his face shaved, and he refuses to wear a turban. He eschews all the outward signs of his family’s Sikh faith.
When the industrialist first comes calling, the families who live in Aman’s neighborhood head to the tree to pray. Fearful Aman would rather sell the land — tree and all — to avoid a fight. He only prays at the tree as a last resort, when he’s out of ideas as to how to protect himself and his mother.
Even when Aman finally understands what has happened to him, he still hesitates to embrace his faith. His mother begs him to wear the turban that belonged to his father, himself a brave, pious man. Aman refuses, saying that he will only wear it when he feels that he can do so whole-heartedly. His skills and resolve are tested along with his faith, and only before the final battle does he choose to wear his father’s turban and the beginnings of a beard.
Aman’s doubt is important because rarely do we see any Hindi film characters at all questioning their belief in the divine. Religion is a part of virtually every Hindi film, especially since the lines separating culture and religion in India are blurry to non-existent. A character’s faith gives him context, defining his relationships to other characters and his place in the community. Thus, it’s a foregone conclusion that most characters in Hindi films are religious.
In a terrific article about Indian superheroes, Sankhayan Ghosh paraphrases mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, who believes that “there is no place for angst” in the Indian idea of heroism. To have a Bollywood character with superpowers doubt not only himself but his belief in God is a big deal.
The thing about faith in the divine is that it requires belief in the absence of physical proof (unless you are Paresh Rawal’s character in OMG: Oh My God, who meets God in person). But even with the physical proof of a Khanda branded on his back and an array of superpowers at his disposal, Aman still hesitates. Like everyone else, his belief has to generate from within.
It’s a thoughtful message, and it relates to another theme in A Flying Jatt. Aman’s brother (played by Gaurav Pandey) tells Aman that the real heroes are those who fight injustice without the aid of superpowers. Aman’s crisis of faith extends that idea further, letting the audience know that it’s okay for normal people to have their doubts about God. If a guy who has been literally touched by the divine can be unsure, how much harder must it be for those with no concrete proof?
Too often, Bollywood heroes are shown as being infallible and above moral judgment. Ajay Devgn’s Bajirao Singham is allowed to break the rules of a democracy because he’s supposedly an instrument of divine justice — a mortal man who can fix all of society’s problems in whatever way he sees fit, no matter the collateral damage (this was especially a problem in Singham Returns). A Flying Jatt‘s Aman isn’t like that. He’s a protector, not an executioner. It’s refreshing to see a relatable Bollywood hero who appeals to the better angels of our nature rather than our base thirst for vengeance.