Starring Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, Jab Harry Met Sejal is the latest offering from Imtiaz Ali, the celebrated director of Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, and Rockstar. Jab Harry Met Sejal is essentially the story of a travel guide named Harinder 'Harry' Singh Nehra and Sejal Zaveri who travel across Europe in search of Sejal's misplaced engagement ring. A reluctant Harry is forced by his boss to help Sejal in every way possible. What ensues is a journey of self-realisation for both the protagonists as they gradually begin to come to terms with what their hearts truly seek.
There has been a great buzz around the film ever since its titled was announced (it was apparently suggested by Ranbir Kapoor), although it subsequently became entangled in a major controversy when CBFC Chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani objected to the use of the word "intercourse" in one of the movie's mini trailers released on YouTube. Has the film delivered? It depends on what you're looking for.
'Jab Harry Met Sejal' is more about character interaction than about plot development... essentially it is a performance-driven film made special by some brilliant direction.
Imtiaz Ali has been associated with rom-com right from his debut feature film Socha Na Tha. Although, his distinctive filmmaking style makes him stand out in Bollywood he has often been accused of laziness in that he tends to revisit his older ideas instead of exploring new themes. This is evident in Jab Harry Met Sejal too which draws on familiar motifs and themes, with glimmers of films such as Certified Copy, the Before trilogy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Ali's own works. But there is nothing wrong in revisiting old ideas and themes as long as you can do them justice. While watching the film one gets a feeling that Imtiaz Ali has finally come of age as a filmmaker. Jab Harry Met Sejal unfolds like a fantasy but that's what is expected of cinematic love stories, where escapism is one of the greatest pleasures. Ultimately, here is rom-com made in the vein of European slice of life films and so it's bound to disappoint those looking for a conventional Bollywood masala concoction.
However, there is no denying that the film's core is very much Indian. The fact is that Imtiaz Ali couldn't have made a Certified Copy or a Before Sunrise. Not because he lacks the ability but because it would most likely not work in India at a commercial level; with such big stars it would be too big a risk. So he tries to do the next best thing—accumulate ideas and try and rework them within limitations. Jab Harry Met Sejal comes across as an amalgamation of complex ideas. And while one seldom gets to see a rom-com of such sophistication in commercial Hindi cinema, a Bollywood filmmaker can only take so many liberties. So even though he tries his best to fuse different ideas he ultimately settles for a predictable ending that's vintage Bollywood.
It unfolds like a fantasy but that's what is expected of cinematic love stories, where escapism is one of the greatest pleasures.
But the good news is Shah Rukh Khan's much awaited return to his beloved genre i.e. romance. Ali pushes SRK to a point where he is forced to let go of the romantic image that he has been carrying for years and in the process helping him reinvent his persona as the new age King of Romance. As for Anushka Sharma, she provides SRK with the perfect foil. Her characterisation is somewhat bizarre but she pulls it off brilliantly. In fact, it's difficult to think of another actress who could have played it with such grace. As expected, the movie is brilliant on the technical front; the movie's cinematography, editing, music, and sound design are top-notch. But it does suffer from some pacing issues. Also some might complain that the story is a bit undercooked. But, truth be told, the film is more about character interaction than about plot development. The chance encounter of two strangers and their subsequent journey is what the film is focused upon. And, so, essentially it is a performance-driven film made special by some brilliant direction. In other words, the trio of Imtiaz Ali, SRK and Anushka Sharma make Jab Harry Met Sejal a treat to watch... so make sure that you don't listen to the naysayers!
A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.