Movie Review: 'Jab Harry Met Sejal'
Opened: 4 August 2017
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sayani Gupta, Evelyn Sharma, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Aru Krishansh Verma, Paras Arora
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Producer: Gauri Khan
There’s a scene in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal (JHMS) where for a split-second the camera glances at the passport of Shah Rukh Khan's Harinder Singh Nehra a.k.a. Harry, and it reveals his year-of-birth; it’s 1980, a mere eight years older than the lead actress, Anushka Sharma’s Sejal, and more so, three years older than the other actress he worked with in Jab Tak Hain Jaan (JTHJ), Katrina Kaif. (He was born in 1965.) This might be the indicator that Ali might not even have had the slightest inclination of exploring a May-December romantic angle, or, that, it might have been altered to convert the project from a glorious marker of SRK’s romance with the Hindi film industry and its actresses for the past 26 years and its natural progression to that of a project that’s merely a throwback to the romantic yore that jingled the box-office merrily. The reason I am talking of this is not just to talk ad-nauseum of an older actor romancing a younger actress; it’s nothing new: Right from Dilip Kumar to Dev Anand to Amitabh Bachchan to Kamal Haasan to SRK, they're all guilty of that. That’s not the point; the point is, this project is helmed by Ali, a highly interesting filmmaker who isn’t afraid to make films that aren’t ‘complete’ cinematic experiences, but ‘messy’ and interesting-as-hell voyages. There was a chance here to do the same with an aging super-star, but it seems like the impulses were all succumbed at the feet of aspiring ‘easy’ box-office success by sucking to the hilt a romantic superstar’s past. And to top it all, NONE of the other three heroes I mentioned above had the permanent tattoo of ‘romance’ inked on them; Dilip was the king of tragedy; Amitabh was the angry young man (though he could take many-a-romantic heroes to the cleaners on his day); and Hassan was never in any identifiable uniform. SRK, however, has the identity of romance via his extended-arms on the Alps and looks and that’s not an easy tattoo to erase. And that can also be an uncomfortable reminder as one grows older; and that’s what the audience is reminded of here; and hopefully, something that even the makers and SRK himself felt when shooting or seeing this flick on screen.
So, in JHMS, in a weird ode to the ‘king’ of romance, SRK is someone who is lucky enough get to get to sleep with any woman he wants in Europe, be they random women in bars or his tour-clients, even at the risk of getting fired. He meets a Gujarati Sejal who misses the flight back to India from Amsterdam to search for a ‘generational’ ring that she lost somewhere on the tour; and her fiancé is mad about it. In their ‘planes, trains, and automobiles’ adventure to search for the ring, they get close to each other and Harry struggles with his past and his ‘mobile’ present while Sejal struggles with her ‘all-set’ future life with her fiancé. They struggle and fight to not get attracted to each other, and the film is about the futility of those attempts and the discoveries along the way.
Ali is really struggling for form here; which is shocking to say the least, but also palatable considering the arc of the project he has chosen with that central pillar, SRK. Not a single scene moves you. Just before the 'Radha' song, SRK gets up and enacts a scene of pathos that’s reminiscent of Manisha Koirala’s open-mouthed remembrance of her rape when physically dominated by SRK’s Amar in that masterpiece of unrequited love, Dil Se. The scene appears so fake, and so rootless, it’s stunning to see that it made the cut in an Ali’s film. It is basically a pointless scene. Now I get that the scene is supposed to convey the nostalgia of a person who left his ‘pind’ on one bleak midnight. But it is so without context that one finds it difficult to empathise with it. Having known Ali’s work, I am NOT someone expecting him to spoon feed me the ‘past’ and the reasoning behind Harry’s breakdown. But there’s not even a hint; or a clever subterfuge!
The film is filled with many such scenes that are actually supposed to convey ‘depth’ but end up not even scratching the surface. There’s absolutely nothing organic in the way these two polar opposite individuals fall for each other. In a fantastic scene pre-interval, with the background score building up, it’s fascinating to watch both the leads trying to ‘deny’ the attraction to each other and trying to out-score each other on ‘being-a-more-practical’ person. Just as one feels the heart racing, Imtiaz destroys it with making SRK jump around like a maniac (again, a weak throwback to SRK’s days of yore) and cutting off to interval. Post-interval, both are dancing in a club for ‘Beech Beech Mein’! This really isn’t the Ali I have come to know through Highway or the overrated Rockstar or the underrated Tamasha. This is, truly, flabbergasting to say the least. The post-interval portions are really painful in the sense that there seems to be absolutely no control over the proceedings and the way the songs are spaced. It’s just ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ post-interval.
The less said about the songs and music, the better. It’s a crime the makers committed by not having Rahman here. Thankfully, Irshad Kamil lends some respectability and emotions to the emotions experienced by the lead pair.
SRK is good in some parts but really showing off the ‘effort’ in some parts; especially the pre-interval parts where he’s supposed to display the frustrations with Sejal. He ‘tries’ a lot and he ‘shows’ that he’s trying a lot. (He lets himself loose and is hilarious in the club scene where he accosts Anushka to run and is mouthing Punjabi expletives.’) Overall, this is a far better experience for him as an actor than the much over-rated Dear Zindagi where he was, ironically, NOTHING but the superstar SRK trying to be a therapist. Anushka gets all the Gujju stereotypes and accents right, but again ends up being the bubbly girl that she’s played in umpteen films; someday, this bubble’s gonna burst. ALL the other actors in this movie, including the supremely gifted Chandan Roy Sanyal, are criminally wasted.
In a way, Ali has actually taken the very easy way out by trying to ‘mash up’ his own previous films. He tries to channel in Randeep Hooda’s exasperation and disbelief that a woman could be cooking for him (Highway) through SRK’s character and the ‘positive’ attitude of a stranger in a depressed person’s life through Sejal (Kareena in Jab We Met).
The only metaphor that I could ‘glean’ out of this enterprise is that Sejal’s ring is a ring that ties her back to familial obligations et. al and hers is an attempt to free herself of that, while SRK’s attempts and his yearnings are the opposite; to go back to the closely-knit surroundings of his family in Punjab.
It’s ironic, then, that the frustrating Ae Dil Hai Mushkil by Imtiaz Ali wannabe Karan Johar turned out to get better critical reviews than Ali’s own JHMS where he tries to be Karan Johar but miserably fails, primarily because, he’s not a filmmaker as vacuous as Karan Johar. And the one good thing I would say about JHMS is that I was NEVER as frustrated with this film as I was with ADHM (except for the heart-churning songs 'Channa Meraya' and 'Tu Safar Mera'); and this is a testimony to the fact that even if Imtiaz decides to betray himself, he’s going to have a hell of a time doing that.