Imtiaz Ali and Shahrukh Khan making a film together? Damn.
Two men who have been accused of rarely veering away from their tried and tested paths join hands with When Harry Met Sejal. Ali and his proclivity for tweaking the same basic story over and over again with every new project (except for Highway
) combines with Shahrukh "please stop making romance/unfunny movies because you actually have so much more range" Khan.
In an interview, the "King" Khan (talking about his future projects) made the statement (being paraphrasing here) "I'm branching out from the so-called Shahrukh formula. Hopefully the audience sees and appreciates my efforts." Well, here we go Mr. Khan - I am a fan of most of your work (including the divisive latest ones Raees
and Dear Zindagi
), and was sitting amongst many other such fans hoping you'd surprise us with your latest offering. Alas.
From what I could glean (from in between the screams of a few young ladies) the movie tells the story of a Lothario named Harry - absconding from Punjab, now Canadian citizen and European tour guide - and a girl named Sejal who has lost her an engagement ring which is very important to her fiancée. The duo travels across Europe attempting to locate said ring while the film attempts to find some sort of romantic connection between the broken and distraught Harry and manic pixie Sejal.
As mentioned, this story has been done to death by Ali. The plot is so thin that even wafers would feel offended being compared to it: girl thinks a guy is awesome and is engaged to him, but runs into the guy the movie thinks is awesome, and by the end of the circumstances the film puts the duo through, girl comes to the conclusion that the guy the movie said is awesome is indeed awesome. Basic rom-com formula achieved.
I somehow secretly feel that Ali has one of those punch cards you get at McDonalds' where you get a free Coke if you eat there 10 times, with the only difference being that Ali's card promises him a pass into the pantheon of illustrious rom-com directors if he makes the same movie 10 times. You're getting close, bro - a few more whacks at the same story and you might get a chair next to the late Gary Marshall.
An emaciated plotline needs an engaging screenplay, towering performances and the pace to keep itself from being labelled banal. Sadly, Jab Harry Met Sejal drops the ball on two of those three requirements. While the lines are intermittently funny, the locales said lines are being uttered at are beautiful and one of the lips those lines are coming out of is distracting, the film slowly but surely loses steam as it tries to fill into its surprisingly long runtime. The need to move from locale to locale becomes flimsier by the minute; while each locale offers up at least a moment of genuine emotion, it is quickly subdued by an unnecessary song or a contrived plot point.
While the aforesaid locales are sights for sore eyes, they are no match for the lead actors carrying the film square on their shoulders. Shahrukh Khan, who is still struggling to find a niche for himself as he jogs into his mid-50s, is in rare form. It's performances like this one that remind you that the man has so much to offer in terms of onscreen prowess, but owing to a multitude of reasons, his talent as an actor is frugally explored. While the character written for him ails from a deficiency of character moments, the man himself adds a whole host of pain, sadness and loneliness to it with those world-weary eyes. The tender moments he shares with his co-star Anushka Sharma, while few and far between, leave you wanting more each time. There is so much chemistry in the air.
Khan's sorrow appears genuine, Sharma's self-realization comes off as profound, and the moments the film creates where these jagged edges align with each other are truly mesmeric even if these scenes are drowned in a sea of superfluous side-quests.
Their character motivations and reasons for being, while not well elaborated by dialogue, are rendered clearly by a few memorable tracks. The score is pleasant but also sets scenes up pre-emptively. This might rob an attentive viewer of any tension as he/she might know what is unfurling on screen way before the film organically reaches said juncture.
And that sums the film up. While everything in it is beautiful - the sadness is beautiful, the loneliness is beautiful, the actors are beautiful, the shots are beautiful and so on - these beautiful aspects are not organic. The film's scenes feel as if they are separate sections, and rarely ooze into each other. While each section of the film has its highs and lows, the movie on the whole loses its narrative flow.
Engaging screenplays are hard to come by because an engaging screenplay needs a compelling conflict. While Ali's previous works Highway, Rockstar
, Jab We Met
etc. while imperfect had conflicts, and dramatic and thematic elements that wove their characters together, Jab Harry Met Sejal is as flimsy as its conceit.