In Jab we Met, when you see Aditya for the first time, he looks desolate, out-of-place and distraught to an extent that you want to enter the screen to pat him on his shoulder and say everything will be alright.
In Jab Harry met
Sally Sejal, when you see Harry for the first time, he looks desolate, out-of-place and distraught to such an extent that you want to enter the screen and hug him tight because he is flucking Shahrukh Khan.
Therein lies the biggest problem of this movie.
Shahrukh was always Raj, Rahul, Aryan, Mohan, Kabir or Aman. However, in this movie, he is more Shahrukh Khan and less Harry (it is probably the waxed chest… #SorryNotSorry #PleaseToGetWordPlay) .
Shahrukh Khan can be brooding, intense and effective. He is all this and adds one unnecessary facet.
He is hammy to the point of no return.
I am made aware that Punjabis sing loud to drown the sounds of the whirring tractors. However, loudness is a character attribute while being hammy is just a caricature.
It is good that Shahrukh gets most of his scenes with Sejal (Anushka Sharma).
Anushka gets top billing in the credits and it is not only because Shahrukh decided to give his heroines that position.
She holds the movie together and by that logic music director Pritam and Hitesh Sonik with his background score should have gotten higher billings too. (Not their fault but the placing of Beech Beech mein was simply horrendous.)
Sejal mellows Shahrukh down to make him more watchable.
Sejal is brilliant. She is flawed. She is messed-up. She wants recognition about her ‘layak-ness’. She is sexually repressed, seeks acceptance and is looking for liberation.
Sejal knows she is strong enough to resist the charms of Shahrukh.
Sejal knows she isn’t a ‘gandi ladki’ to fall for the charms of
Raja Hindustani Shahrukh and leave her rich family and settle for a failed singer who is actually a pretty average one with the most contrived and pointless flashback ever seen in the history of Hindi cinema.
Sejal knows it is pointless to fall in love with
Raj Harry who would then have to fly all over to India to try stopping her arranged marriage.
Sejal knows things.
Be like Sejal.
Anushka nails the character incorporating those minute idiosyncrasies that makes her stand out in a movie that was supposed to be this love story that crosses countries and continents.
This brings us to the filmmaker.
Imtiaz knows he is typecast. He might even be aware of the fact that in his movies, the biggest stereotype is Imtiaz himself.
The relationship between a filmmaker and his audience or fans is similar to one between a long-distance couple. Unless sincere effort is taken, the relationship might seem forced and exists only because there is some sort of comfort in the known.
The relationship between Imtiaz and his audience is straining. The patience for similar tropes is waning.
Cliches are different from stereotypes.
The audience might not mind it raining just when a couple re-conciliate. They might have a problem when it rains only for the movie to break into a song shot in monochrome to exhibit the pain and suffering the protagonist goes through during separation.
Imtiaz Ali is comfortably stuck in a quagmire.
When Jab we Met released in 2007, my personal life reflected the movie and I thought Aditya was just me with better looks and way better dressing sense.
When Love Aaj Kal released in 2009, once again my personal life was reflected in the movie and when Jai attends Meera’s wedding and shoots off that dialogue about timing and marriage, I thought it was just me with better looks and way better dressing sense.
When Rockstar released in 2011, I am not kidding you when I say that I thought the pining love exhibited by Jordan was just a reflection of another episode with better aesthetic value and of course the looks and dressing sense.
Highway was an anomaly and with Tamasha in 2015, Imtiaz became the person who somehow knew everything that was going through in my life and was registering it on celluloid. This time it was just the looks, my dressing sense got better with age.
However, in JHMS, there was no reflection. There was no pining. There were no tears trickling down the corners of my eyes.
The movie worked just superficially for the most times.
Every Imtiaz movie has a strong heroine who helps the hero find his way back home or to the place where his heart is.
Despite him treating them just as a plot device, one likes those characters because even the incompletely written ones come out way better than the heroines encountered in most films.
His movies were always about Aditya, Jai, Jordan, Ved and now Harry being saved by the heroine in the nick of time before they self-destruct.
With the exception of Geet, none of the other female characters in his movies ever got to be more than a plot device.
Paeans were written about the acting and the character but none of them were memorable for any other reason except for being on the side of their heroes.
Sejal is different. Anushka makes Sejal different. She makes most of this raw deal and works wonders with the character.
As mentioned earlier, she is needy, clingy, irritable, flawed and even borderline idiotic. But, she worked for me as a character unlike Shahrukh.
Despite his towering screen presence and undeniable charisma, Shahrukh didn’t quite get there as Harry and remained somewhere in the middle of how he wanted to play this character and how Imtiaz imagined it to be.
This is Sejal’s film. It just felt like Dear Zindagi with Shahrukh in an extended cameo in an Imtiaz movie where the heroine finds herself for a change.
Despite all of this, I enjoyed watching this movie. It might not have been the greatest movie but there are certain things that only Shahrukh Khan and Imtiaz Ali manage to tap out.
Those scenes where words were replaced by just piercing gazes. Those scenes where even the most cliched lines work because of the staging and the performances. Those scenes where Harry opens up to Sejal remind you of the Imtiaz Ali who can work magic given the right team.
The scenes where Shahrukh’s eyes exude sadness in a way only he can. The scenes where a hint of a smile and a hint of a tear that cheats its way out of Shahrukh without warning. The scenes where Shahrukh talks about love, life and the in-betweens reminds you of the actor that he can be in the right hands.
It is just unfortunate that this wasn’t that movie where both those worlds met.
Inspite of how things might look now, Shahrukh Khan has done pretty diverse roles in the past decade or so. I believe he understands he cannot do what Bhai does or Aamir Khan or an Akshay Kumar. He doesn’t garner that kind of ‘opening’ anymore.
Shahrukh is still the representation of the urban middle-class or the upper middle-class male in India or a NRI. His ‘fall from grace’ is only because there are many more actors who are now doing movies for that audience.
It is okay. He might not be King Khan or the Badshah of Bollywood anymore.
That phase is done. An outsider came into the industry and became its biggest star. Now, he has moved on to other things.
Let him do romance. Let him be that sad lovelorn man looking for answers to existential questions. Let him be the actor he wants himself to be.
I don’t mind a Dilwale if he does a Fan soon after. I don’t mind a JHMS if he does a Raees earlier. I wouldn’t mind him teaming up with Aditya Chopra all over again if it means he does a movie with Aanand L Rai.
When a star tries hard to go back to become an actor, a bit of a leeway could be given. Everyone might not understand it but as an audience of Tamil cinema who has seen the umpteen number of actors we have lost out in their quest to become stars, I would not tear down his career choices as of now.
I still have my belief in Shahrukh Khan and this is why despite all its flaws, I enjoyed Jab Harry met Sejal.
It might be old wine in an older bottle.
But, I am an alcoholic.