Synopsis – The story revolves around Harry and Sejal’s journey across Europe. A search for Sejal’s engagement ring makes Harry understand love and relationships better. Sejal experiences new found freedom, security and solace in Harry’s company and in between all of this – there is love, life, lies, thrill, fantasy and the search for the voice within.
My Take – As a lifelong fan of Shah Rukh Khan, the release of his every new film is nothing short of an event! Twitter trends and maddening crowds outside theaters apart, there’s also the anticipation of whether this one is going to be better than his last film. However, in recent times, following the success of his blockbuster Chennai Express, his films have been surprising lagging behind in terms of quality and box office collections, especially when compared to his counterparties. Sure, his 1st release of the year, Raees, did well at the box office, despite mixed critical reception, yet the longing to watch the star to chameleon himself into an overpowering role still remains (even though I believe he was quite awesome in Fan & Dear Zindagi). Here, pairing up with writer/director Imtiaz Ali, one of the few directors I adore in Bollywood, for the 1st time to combine each other’s previously successful tropes i.e. a cross continent love story that involves travel, profound human experiences and a sometimes-humorous exploration of emotions. Right from his debut (Socha Na Tha) to his last release (Tamasha), as a writer Imtiaz Ali has used generalized plots depends on metaphors and travel as a device to open trapped emotions and desires, ideas which were strongly explored in Jab We Met, Rockstar and Highway, unfortunately here they are too superficially addressed as a 143-minute tour of Europe, a really expensive long trip. Yes, riding on a weak plot & a predictable screenplay, this A list collaboration is nothing short of a misfire. Even the Imtiaz Ali staple of soul searching is missing here, despite minor traces of it in the 1st half. The only point you remain sold till the end is that our leading man & lady seem to be having a blast in each other’s company.
The story follows Harry a.k.a. Harindar Singh Nehra (Shah Rukh Khan), a Punjab-born, Canadian passport-holding tour guide in Europe, who is known particularly for his charm. However, when he he’s by himself, he feels lost and lonely while deeply missing his home back in India. Things taken when he is forced to accompany Sejal Zhaveri (Anushka Sharma) on a trans-continental search for her lost engagement ring. Harry had been assigned to her group — consisting of her family and friends — as they travelled across Europe for a month, when her boyfriend Rupen proposed marriage to her, and slipped that ring on her finger. She promptly misplaced it. Rupen sees her carelessness as an indicator of her lack of commitment, so she decides to stay back, find it in the haystack that is Europe and prove to him how much she loves him. Harry agrees to help her find the ring – only so she wouldn’t complain to his superiors, in order to save his job which has been in peril due to his womanizing ways and thus begins a journey were the pair rambles on about love, attraction, sex and marriage as they traverse a gorgeous landscape that includes Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest and Frankfurt in pursuit of the ring. But the ring is merely a metaphor. If you’ve watched any Imtiaz Ali film, you know that what Harry and Sejal are searching for is each other, and of course, their own true selves. There has been a trend in director Imtiaz Ali‘s earlier work – Jab We Met, Rockstar, Highway, Love Aaj Kal, Cocktail – he sets the conflict/love story in a complex state, as the stated film slows (but beautifully) lays out the feelings, reactions and issues of the characters and then yearning towards a closure. In Tamasha, there was something missing to explain why the main character was acting the way he did & anything small wouldn’t have completed the loop, thankfully everything is laid out well by the time the end credits roll in. However, here it seems like a whole chunk of information is missing, the result of which we never relate nor understand why the characters are acting in such a certain way. Like, you never know when it becomes absolutely natural for Sejal to cuddle up to Harry in a deserted palladium, while on the run from some goons or when it’s perfectly acceptable that Harry hint at how he feels, and you feel like this was coming, with no hiccups or irregularities involved. As a pair, they couldn’t be more different. Harry is temperamental and “cheap”, having slept with lots of lady clients and was once almost fired because of his promiscuity. Sejal, in her own words, is a “decent” girl who is happy taking holidays with her family, but who still yearns to be “sexy” rather than “cute”. But as they retrace their steps across the continent and squat on all fours to look for that elusive ring, they somehow form a connection. Director Ali doesn’t get into the how and why of it. In his world, Harry and Sejal can fall in love, but never cross the line that leads to lust. They cuddle but never copulate because, as Harry tells her, “You are not one of those”. Instead, they get into trouble with gangsters in Prague, get kidnapped in Budapest, and give out the notion that Europe is not safe for women travelers unless they are accompanied by formidable-looking men who will protect them. There’s even a Punjabi wedding thrown in, tons of songs and cutesy moments between the two. Sejal relieves Harry from his life as a nomad and the loneliness that comes with it, while the latter rescues her from the humdrum life that awaits her back home – all of which we’ve seen multiple times in many films. The main problem with the film is that director Imtiaz Ali seems to have run out of ideas to say these old things in new ways. It is hard to believe that the man who made such thinking entertainers as Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar and Tamasha has created such a non-interesting film. To top that, this film’s basic proposition itself is so far out, if you may, that you ought to take a major leap to get on the ride at all. Even the characters here say it, to your face, that it’s not easy imagining that a girl—perhaps a Gujarati diamond merchant’s daughter—travelling in a family group, will lose her engagement ring, and then leave everyone behind at the airport to practically retrace her entire trip across Europe, trying to find the ring that she could’ve lost anywhere. I’m sorry? “It’s emotion,” the girl reasons. “This is getting far too silly,” the hero rightly mentions. After successfully exploiting themes of self-discovery in his earlier film, it became clear watching Tamasha that Imtiaz may be running out of ideas. There are just so many times you can romanticize self-healing and coming-of-age before it all starts to feel contrived. The other really annoying part of the film was the constant juxtaposition of Sejal to every other female Harry’s ever been with. Dismayed at being called ‘sweet and cute’ and not ‘sexy’, she seems almost vehement to prove him wrong, asking him at every turn whether she’s ‘layak’ (deserving of that tag) now. What doesn’t, I suppose, is the film itself, which lacks the soul, and clever subversion, before it inevitably begins to descend into the climax that you know it will.
However, here are a few stellar sequences in the film, where eyes do more talking than the dialogues. A jazz performance that Sejal fakes to be boring her (reminiscent of Dil Chahta Hai opera scene), while she tears up quietly in Harry’s arms is heartbreaking. And so is the one right after where Harry screams into the sea calling for Sejal, saying how much he’ll miss her. It’s almost refreshing to see King Khan as the man who can’t handle his libido, proudly wearing the badge of his womanizing tendencies. Thankfully the mush and the music blend in together to pull through the film’s fidgety parts. The film’s best songs aren’t even out and they say a lot more about the plot and its crux than the dialogues do. This sucks, given this film is from a mainstream director with very strong sense of notes and visuals, who’s used a star mainly as a tool to drive home his point about pain, loneliness, and love. In the midst of all this pointlessness, Shah Rukh and Anushka’s torrid chemistry is the only thing that manages to keep us glued to the screen. Anushka and Shah Rukh have a comfortable (and therefore funny) chemistry between them. The film jumps right into it, and gives us two widely different personalities: Harry’s sardonic, hesitant and sometimes mysterious demeanor, versus Sejal’s determined, ‘jugaadu’ and hilariously positive attitude. You just want to keep watching these two fight! Both actors hold the screen confidently and even effortlessly, especially in moments of intensity and depth. It starts off with the two having a strange and almost repulsive dynamic with each other, but the relationship between them morphs into something very strangely admirable and empathetic as the film progresses. There’s glimpses of magic along with an overall sense of comfort, and it’s been portrayed very well. It’s a pity, because Shah Rukh Khan breathes life into a character that could so easily have been a turn-off. His performance is one of the film’s few strengths. Despite the baffling, contradictory nature of Sejal, Anushka Sharma works hard to imbue her with genuine feeling. For the longest time, as an SRK fan I have adored him off screen and struggled to justify his film choices, like Happy New Year or Diwale. But here, he gives you a performance you had fallen in love with, the charming & funny, yet the mysterious, edgy and flawed. You will love this portrayal! And as surprising as it sounds, there couldn’t have been a better fit than Anushka Sharma for Sejal. Here, Anushka, matches SRK‘s wit with her brazenness and his raw, melt-in-your-arms gaze with her assured look. She is particularly believable as the self-assured engaged woman who speaks with a strong Gujju accent, knowing what she wants and going for it. As she showed earlier this year in Phillauri, Sharma is an underrated straight-faced comic, and rather delightful here as a talkative, square woman looking for a little excitement. The two actors deserved a better film! In a supporting role, Aru Krishansh Verma is good, while Evelyn Sharma is alright. Chandan Roy Sanyal is hilarious as the gangster known as Gas. On the whole, ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’ is a disappointing affair, which despite its lead’s crackling chemistry, ends up being a rare soulless misfire from director Imtiaz Ali.
Directed – Imtiaz Ali
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 143 minutes