Jab Harry Met Sejal: Burdened by Shah Rukh Khan's star power, Imtiaz Ali gives us his weakest film
This was inevitable, and a disaster waiting to happen. Pity, it came at a time when his film boasted of the biggest star of this country. The film in question is Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal, which has been given a resounding and an emphatic no by cine-goers and critics alike. While Ra.One had mixed reviews on day one, the verdict for this Shah Rukh Khan-Anushka Sharma starrer is unanimous from the very first show. It is the histrionics of Anushka Sharma and ubiquitous charm of Shah Rukh Khan which redeem and salvage the film to an extent, while Imtiaz Ali remains a non-starter on all fronts in JHMS. Imtiaz is a filmmaker who is a gypsy at heart, and when he begins to come home to the practicalities of mainstream film making loses this gypsy charm; his latest offering is a testimony to this.
There are no two ways about the fact that the brickbats will all be saved for Imtiaz Ali in days to come, and rightly so, because this film is devoid of any substance. It is a film which has absolutely nothing in it — story line, emotions, moments, and hummable songs. Come to think of it, they all are hallmark of an Imtiaz Ali film. All along, Imtiaz has been playing with fire, and now he has burnt his fingers. It’s important to explain what ‘playing with fire’ means in context of this filmmaker. Imtiaz made his debut with the immensely charming Socha Na Tha and soon after reached pinnacle of success with Jab We Met. With Jab We Met, he also chanced upon the ‘success formula’, but this formula proved to be his nemesis in JHMS. This formula, which included the ingredients of a journey, romance and yearning, was a potent and heady mix that pulled audiences towards theatres. He reinforced and applied the same formula in his subsequent films — Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar, Highway and Tamasha. Backed by a solid plot, these three ingredients guaranteed success each time.
Journey in themselves are often the destination, and this holds true for most of Imtiaz’s films. It’s always been a journey of self-discovery, but just how many times can you traverse down the same route as a storyteller, before you simply run out of road? Abhay Deol-Ayesha Takia starrer Socha Na Tha remains his most innocent film till date. Jab We Met was effortless in its narrative, entertaining to the core, and packed with a solid performance. Love Aaj Kal was repetitive, but the discovery of Saif’s character was pretty convincing. With Rockstar and Highway he took his most intense journeys, but till the time Tamasha released, it was evident that he had clearly run out of ideas which centered on his three ingredients.
"A man is known by the company he keeps" goes the old saying. Imtiaz is often seen as a no-nonsense director, who is sort of media shy and never resorts to shenanigans. We saw him during promotions of Tamasha, Rockstar and Highway when he came across as a learned man and his intelligent quotes and witty one-liners sufficed. But when we saw him in the making of the 'Safar' song from JHMS, cavorting with his camera, recording Khan’s singing skills and jiving with him, it sent out a message that he has bowed down to the diktats of a superstar.
Jab Harry Met Sejal was the speed breaker he finally met with in his dream run at the box office. It can safely be concluded now that JHMS is Imtiaz’s weakest and most faulty film till date. At best, it could be dubbed as an effort to fleece the public in the name of a European tour, armed with the charm of a superstar and a non-existent story. At most times, you wonder and keep looking not for the ring, but for a story, any story! There is nothing beyond the very obvious rootlessness of a foreigner in a foreign land, which keeps coming up all the time as a motif to make up for an absent script, that can even claim to be the theme of this film.
Sejal and Harry, or 'Herry' as she calls him in a strong Gujarati accent, begin a journey together, but don’t quite reach a destination. With a series of incidents that keep highlighting the star and his overpowering stardom in the film, their randomness becomes standard behavior. JHMS has been shot in the most exquisite manner, capturing Europe in its historic, picturesque best. Beyond that though, the locations are mere backdrop to asinine scenes, including moments like Harry flirting with white women, his sudden desire to sing out loud praises of Punjab and a forced resonance to Indianness. And what was that sepia-tinted flashback scene from Punjab? The only connotation it brings about in the film is a feeling of a nightmare, which Shah Rukh certainly does not have in the film.
Both Anushka Sharma and Shah Rukh Khan deliver spirited performances, wallowing in the lightness of events. Anushka is pretty much the life of the film, too. But the caricaturish interpretation of Gujaratis isn’t exactly endearing. The biggest fault here lies with Imtiaz Ali, who seems overpowered by an opportunity to work with SRK, thus giving in to the temptation to rehash his cult hit Jab We Met. Such is the lack of effort here that some scenes actually remind one of Imtiaz’s previous films.
It’s evident that Imtiaz’s latest film is a compromise on many fronts. If he intended the film to be a self-discovery of Harry and Sejal during the search for the ring, it never comes across. It looks banal in the absence of any intensity in the plot. Till he catches the flight to Mumbai, Harry's character is never shown yearning for his lady. It's there, but the placement looks absurd. Recall the scene when just before they are caught by the bunch of illegal immigrants, Harry is shown shouting Sejal’s name to the ocean asking her to come back. Sejal’s ‘selfish’ attitude remains throughout the film and it’s only in the end when she feels the desire to pack Harry in a box and take him along to India. The sudden change in graph is startling. It seems the charm and the opportunity of working with a superstar was too much for Imtiaz. He could have done a lot with Jab Harry Met Sejal, but it would have also been difficult to shield suggestions coming from a superstar. Truth be told, we are bored with Imtiaz’s journey. It's time he takes a pause and presses the thinking button.