First things first, let’s clear this up: JHMS is not a remake of Hollywood’s similar-sounding Meg Ryan-Billy Crystal starrer. Did you hear that, guys? A Bollywood film that bears nearly 40% resemblance to its western counterpart, claims to not even be ‘inspired’ by the former. Bravo!
Now for the ‘original’ plot: meet Harry – a grizzled, wounded tour guide in Europe. A man who drowns his loneliness and failed ambitions in alcohol and casual sex. A man who describes himself as ‘cheap’, because he cannot keep his hands off his female clients. Harry is a cynical creep with a lame, underwritten back-story but Shah Rukh makes us care about him. He does not hold back in his vulnerability and even cries unabashedly. So of course, Sejal falls in love with him. We all do. We just wish Harry had walked into a different narrative; we wish he had fallen in love with Geet from Jab We Met, or Tara from Tamasha, or even Alizeh from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – women with comparatively greater fire, wit, and personality. Because Sejal is a damp, inconsistent squib.
Well at the outset, Sejal tells Harry they won’t have problems travelling across Europe together because as she explains, “I can control, boss! Anytime, anywhere, anyone.” The exception, clearly, is Harry. There is precious little we know of Sejal besides that she parades around in an impressive wardrobe (styled by Aki Narula, so that’s a given). She is naïve, ignorant and is definitely confused about what she wants. She insists that Harry is sexually attracted to her, but also that she is not the type of woman to run away with her tour guide and dump her fiancé. In a film as ostensibly cool as this, are we still peddling archaic stereotypes as these?
Perhaps the most unforgivable of this chaotic premise is writer-director Imtiaz Ali. The man, known for combining the mainstream glamour quotient of his cast with a raw and messy narrative, seems to have fallen from grace on this one. His trademark fantasies that are at once insightful and a petrified version of reality, merely fall limp and lifeless here. The search of Sejal’s engagement ring feels like a thin, unconvincing excuse to put two good-looking, designer-clad actors on a journey through picturesque European countries. The viewer is fed all the cinematographic goodies: narrow cobbled streets, old world cafés, boat rides and trams. All set against Pritam’s lively music. Even so, the most gaping hole left by the plot robs the aesthetics of its visual charm.
The story’s concern is not that an engaged woman traipses around Europe with a man. The journey – literal and metaphorical –Imtiaz’s favorite trope, is meant to be the star of the show. His characters discover who they really are as they travel. JHMS repeats this formula on loop, without the feeblest of tweaks, apparently expecting to get away with it.
The first half of the film coasts along on the beauty of small moments and laughter but the second half of the film veers beyond redemption. The plot careens without any larger design. Harry and Sejal’s relationship is purportedly sex-less as that of Raj and Simran’s in DDLJ. Imtiaz Ali runs into trouble attempting to mold the larger-than-life romantic persona of Shah Rukh into his more bruised brand of romance.
Imtiaz and Shah Rukh coming together should have made a romantic classic. And it would have, had it been for more cohesive writing with the characterization that wasn’t created in someone’s sleep. JHMS does not touch your insides because it is not truthful enough to move you.
Movie review: Jab Harry Met Sejal – a picture-perfect journey, but where does it head?