An Jo on Jab Harry Met Sejal

[Mild spoilers ahead]

There’s a scene in Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal [JHMS] where for a split-second the camera glances at the passport of SRK’s Harinder Singh Nehra a.k.a. Harry, and it reveals his year-of-birth; it’s 1980, a mere 8 years older than the lead-actress, Anushka’s Sejal, and more so, 3 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 Imtiaz 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 throw-back 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 are all guilty of that. That’s not the point; the point is, this project is helmed by Imtiaz Ali, a highly interesting film-maker 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 super-star’s past. And to top it all, NONE of the other 3 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 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 fiancée 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 fiancée. 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.

Imtiaz 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’s open-mouthed remembrance of her rape when physically dominated by SRK’s Amar. The scene appears so fake, and so root-less, it’s stunning to see that it made the cut in an Imtiaz’s film. It is basically a point-less scene. Now I get that the scene is supposed to convey the nostalgia of a person who left his ‘pind’ on one bleak mid-night. But it is so without context that one finds it difficult to empathize with it. Having known Imtiaz’s wont, I am NOT some-one expecting him to spoon-feed me the ‘past’ and the reasoning behind Harry’s break-down. 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 back-ground 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 throw-back 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 Imtiaz I have come to know through HIGHWAY or the over-rated ROCKSTAR or the under-rated 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 Anoushka 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 super-star SRK trying to be a therapist. Anushka gets all the Gujju stereo-types and accents right, but again ends-up being the bubbly girl that she’s played in umpteen films; some-day, this bubble’s gonna burst. ALL the other actors in this movie, including the supremely-gifted Chandan Roy Sanyal, are wasted.

In a way, Imtiaz has actually taken the very easy way out by trying to ‘mash’ his previous personal films. He tries to channel in Randeep Hooda’s exasperation and dis-belief 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 [Kareen in JWM].

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 ADHM by Imtiaz Ali wanna-be Karan Johar turned out to get better critical reviews than Imtiaz’s JHMS where he tries to be Karan Johar but miserably fails, primarily because, he’s not a film-maker 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 of CHANNA MEREYA 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..

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13 Responses to “An Jo on Jab Harry Met Sejal”

  1. Good review but glanced some points and putting down the points before I forget.

    “But there’s not even a hint; or a clever subterfuge!”

    *** Spoilers*** So, you didn’t get the hint?? SRK wakes up from sleep and finds Anushka sleeping beside him and then his flashes of his village are seen and the whole dream is scene and then he suddenly wakes up from dream and tries to consoles himself. That scene was done in a way that it displays that he’s been battling this fear and longing of his hometown for years and it is not a new thing. Srk’s whole character from the start is shown that he’s living a loner life and hiding his past and longing for a home. In this one scene you can figure out that he has been suffering for a ‘home’ and that’s the reason he doesn’t want a long term relationship. Eventually, whenever he sees Anushka, he fears that she reminds him of a ‘home’ and he don’t want to face the situation. You never could figure out a hint in all the scenes till the scene happened? Strange.

    “Post-interval, both are dancing in a club for ‘BEECH BEECH MEIN’!! ”

    This is wrong representation… as folks will think its the song which they see in promos. NO, it is not that song where 50 dancers are dancing with SRK/Anushka.. and its just 1 minute of both dancing alone in a club wrapping up and then it goes into background and the search for ring continues. Its a background song majorly.

    “ALL the other actors in this movie, including the supremely-gifted Chandan Roy Sanyal, are wasted.”

    I find such comments funny. Already folks don’t even give any role to Chandan Roy Sanyal however talented he is and here he gets a cameo role and he has nailed it. Everyone liked his role and his cameo is to be remembered. How is he wasted? Those who does cameo are wasted? Is he busy actor and they should have not given him a cameo and stretched his role to 30 mins even though it was small role in the script? It needed a very good actor and they took him and I’m sure he’s glad he got the role than sitting at home.

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    • Thanks. Let me reply.

      1) In regard to the scene where SRK breaks down;

      In life, over a period of years, ANY experience is possible. What Imtiaz failed to convey is a ‘continuum’ of that experience; what I mean to say is, for me, at least, a ‘stop-gap’ approach of an abrupt scene doesn’t work. Yes, SRK is shown a loner actually at the very first couple of scenes in the film; but it doesn’t build up to that emotional explosion.

      Now, consider the Hooda scene in HIGHWAY; what Imtiaz does is he lays down umpteen clues as to the character of Hooda; 1) a person who is OF the road; a person who eats dal-roti IRRESPECTIVE of the taste; a person who just EATS because he has to eat to survive; so when that final scene with Alia is depicted and Hooda is unable to come to terms with that, he loses it — and we can BELIVE that he loses it. So the hug that he gets from Alia is far more protective and credible than the hig that HARRY ‘begs’ from Sejal on the train..and I am being very careful in my usage of words here..

      With regard to Chandan Roy, I am not talking of his talent per-se, but of the usage of his talent as a character-building proposition: In the end, he turns out to be absolutely nothing in terms of the cinematic experience one has had!! What I would like to know is, how of much of his character or characteristics have you enjoyed or taken home in terms of the overall cinematic experience!!

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      • “Yes, SRK is shown a loner actually at the very first couple of scenes in the film; but it doesn’t build up to that emotional explosion.”

        You completely ignored the dream part in your reply. He’s dreaming and wakes up from the dream and hence that reaction. Is that dream not a ‘hint’ ? You wanted to show that dream 2-3 times as well before his reaction?

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      • Reg Chandan Roy.. there is audience review video on youtube and some random person said.. I don’t know the actor who played Bangladeshi goon but he was hilarious.

        There you go.. people do notice.

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  2. As usual, interesting review. I have not watched any of his films except JWM. In that I liked Kareena’s dance moves and Shreya Ghoshal’s singing. And Shahid K looked cute and adorable. Unlike Jayshah, Satyam and others I like Kareena Kapoor! She did a good job in Talaash and also in BB.

    Your reviews are always too good.

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  3. Nice review. I liked it a lot more. But on that crying scene i tend to agree with you. He may have pushed her away more abruptly and that was enough for the buildup for that scene imo.

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  4. Great read here An Jo… thanks…

    I should revisit Tamasha. Didn’t mind it when I first saw it but didn’t love it either. But based on a number of opinions here I feel I should give it another shot.

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    • Thanks Satyam.

      TAMASHA is actually, for me, too personal a film. One might love it or hate it. And both the emotions are valid and that’s where Imtiaz strikes me as an interesting film-maker. He has never been the ‘across-the-board’ kind of guy; at least not after JWM. That’s the reason I wanted to visit JHMS irrespective of the reviews. MASTER and SALIM did confirm my worst fears. However, BR’s review scared me most [though I haven’t read it yet] since he normally is very positive on Imtiaz..

      The problem JHMS will face, I feel is that it doesn’t satisfy core Imtiaz fans like who don’t care about the general public perception as well as the folks who care about the perception!!

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      • “TAMASHA is actually, for me, too personal a film.”

        Ditto. If one didn’t like Tamasha, they should try after few years and still they don’t like it then its not their kind of movie. Simple. It is not a perfect film but is too personal to criticize it. It has been the most impactful film in recent years at a personal level.

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  5. I have just one question. SRK is 52. Does he really have that much hair on his head?? I mean he is not even a hairy guy. So much natural hair, just on his head. Really???

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  6. Some more thoughts based on Vijjie’s comments..

    The problem with this movie is that Imtiaz hasn’t been able to condense life’s problems and more-so, man-woman problems and the idiosyncracies of a man-woman relationship convincingly into that cinematic format spanning a 150 minutes.

    I read Vijjie’s take and yes, this is a film ONLY centered on those 2 characters, Harry and Sejal, but the emotional land-scape of those two characters haven’t been effectively conveyed: And more so, they have been diluted with the introductions of characters that are stuffed in without a greater purpose to the narrative. These things, I feel, are the root-causes for the failure of the film to connect to Imitiaz-philes like me and the folks who were just expecting a fine romantic outing.

    I, at least, am not expecting ANY family-oriented take by Imtiaz: In fact, what I was expecting was something on the lines of Linklater’s ‘BEFORE’ series. I am not saying that’s what I WANT to see, but going by what Vijje says, for example, that this is ONLY about the two characters and a ‘modern’ take on their interactions; it just doesn’t do justice, and I don’t think I am to be blamed for my rich expectations from an Imtiaz Ali film that’s is planned or meant to talk about two strangers on a trip of discovery or re-discovery.

    Let me just talk about that GAS inclusion in this story. What’s it supposed to convey? Apart from an excuse to take SRK and Anoushka to a strip-club and then to a supposed Don’s cave? Now compare this with the DON’s inclusion in KABHIE HAAN KABHIE NA; how organically that’s woven into the story. Right from the first instant you know, YOU KNOW that this DON is just someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly, he’s there just as a satirical nod to the fact that a supposed ‘criminal’ can identify the goodness in SRK that even parents cannot! You laugh at this DON but at the same time you bloody take the irony that a criminal can recognize the goodness in SRK which even his family isn’t able to. Perspectives? A criminal being more introspective than the parents? Doesn’t it strike the audience??

    This film would have worked great if Imtiaz had really ‘densed’ the film around it’s two protagonists; more than that’s actually shown here. He doesn’t add up much by way of the protagonists’ back-story but then expects the audience to take a leap-of-faith and ‘buy’ into the confusions of the lead-pair; mainly that of SRK’s, and that turned out to be truly difficult..

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