BOLLYWOOD: From the era of Bollywood of the 80s and early 90s which saw romance mixed into the fiery, dramatic, over-the-top action-adventure genre, love and relationships saw a shift when Yashraj made a film like Dil Walay Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was more sensitive to the woman’s character and did not portray her as the merely one-dimensional damsel in distress. In Dharma’s version of romance in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and in the later and more ‘preppy’ Kal Ho Na Ho, the drama and the intensity continued but with more nuance.
The next swerve in the history of the great Hindi film romance was Imtiaz Ali. Jab We Met was a film about the journey of love, of falling in love and falling out and falling together. His view of relationships isn’t just a fanfare of music and dance, as Bollywood does celebrate love, but holds deeper, darker meanings and brings forth angles of relationships that are often overlooked in the simplistic problems of ‘zaalim samaaj’ and massive gunfights and dying spouses. After Rockstar, Highway and Tamasha, Imtiaz Ali films are Imtiaz Ali films. There’s no other way to put it.
As all Imtiaz Ali films go, Jab Harry Met Sejal is also a film about love and journeys. It starts with the mundane life of Harinder Singh Nehra (Shah Rukh Khan) as a tour guide in Europe. The opening sequence follows Harry going through the motions of his fast but empty life, and the silent loneliness with which Harry eats his sandwich alone and sleeps on a few empty seats in a bus/train terminal, reminded me of how well Imtiaz observes the throes of human nature. It reminded me of a scene in Jab We Met where Geet (Kareena Kapoor) sat silently in the girls’ hostel eating her sandwich. Jab Harry Met Sejal is not like Jab We Met but the razor sharp view that Imtiaz has, of loneliness and emptiness, is just as profound in JHMS.
There is no meet-cute, which is refreshing to say the least. There is no big build up and no giant set-up where Harry does meet Sejal. Sejal, the Gujrati girl who had already been Harry’s tour member, is not new to him even though she is completely new to the audience. This makes her mysterious, despite her near-comical collision with Harry. There is virtually no chemistry in the first four or five scenes which also creates a lot of organic space for natural comedy and hilarity. Their romance builds and grows in their journey together – and that is the true success of the film. It doesn’t rely on the easy method of love at first sight or instantaneous chemistry that allows romantic storytelling to be a straightforward deal. It relies on the power of two extremely different individuals intertwined in an unlikely story that makes them appreciate each other and themselves. Harry and Sejal begin to feel attracted as time passes, but the obvious fly in the ointment is that Harry is simply a tour-guide and Sejal is engaged and ‘not the kinda girl who would run away with a tour-guide’. It is the brutal honesty of both Harry and Sejal that keeps the film upbeat. Harry’s character is irritable and complexed and dark in many ways. Shah Rukh Khan masterfully portrays the inherent soullessness of Harry in the hollow gazes and flippant responses to Sejal.
The film itself has a Seinfeld-esque quality. It’s about nothing but it’s about everything. It touches upon the class divide and the gender constructs but those become backgrounds for the main story of these two individuals, much like in real life relationships. The film has incredibly strong dialogue and screenplay and is a romantic puzzle of sorts. There are tiny romantic Easter eggs in the film that help you figure out the characters and their motivations and their pitfalls. Sejal, for example, tells her sister that she’s ‘honeymooning’ in Europe because after she gets married to Rupen (her fiancé) her life would be just as boring as her sister’s. In Harry, she finds thrill and excitement and most of all, happiness. Harry has run away from home to be a singer and since is a serial womanizer, he cannot do well in his work as a travel guide and his life is a self-loathing mess of failures. He believes Sejal can ‘save’ him, this scares him and makes him hopeful.
Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma are extremely adept at telling this story – they are so wonderful at the micro-interactions and the small gestures that make the film a treat to watch. Even the big moments in the film are depicted beautifully as well. My favorite scene in the film has to be where Harry screams at the sea and caves, hearing his own echo, remembering the name of his beloved. He looks at Sejal, turns around and then screams her name, his eyes tear up and Sejal is moved by the obvious heartbreak that is just around the corner for both.
The film perhaps is a little bit too long and there are one or two sequences that the film could have easily done without (a lengthy involvement of a gangster that brings some of the ‘action-adventure’ into the film – it seemed to be superfluous in a story that was mainly about the two individuals) – but overall, it is a delicious watch for anyone who is a fan of romance and is looking to understand the highs and lows of relationships. What happens after you meet the love of your life; how do they become the love of your life; how they norm and storm with you and what they mean to you? For all that and for a darkly funny romance, go watch the film.