Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma
In the interval of Jab Harry Met Sejal, my only focus was to reach the restroom as soon as possible. Weak bladders are a curse, and I’ll write an emotional piece about it one day. On my way out of the hall, I desperately requested people to move aside. This was an emergency, and not the Madhur Bhandarkar kind.
One of them however was too busy blocking the aisle, stretching his arms, scanning the horizon, making sure his hoodie came off in slow-motion at an acceptably heroic angle, tightening his chest muscles and forming a facial expression that depicted great satisfaction at the sight of Shah Rukh Khan’s first-half performance.
I almost pushed him, to which he patronizingly replied, “Bhai, I’m also going out. Relax”. And he stretched his arms further. He smiled to nobody in particular. I waited, humbled by his depth and passion. This was an event for him. My mistake.
Imtiaz Ali has a reputation for making nothingness feel relevant and timely, because this is a generation used to romanticizing its own problems
In fact, he was, at this moment, the human manifestation of Imtiaz Ali’s latest film. He loved it so much that he had become the screenplay. He had become something he was too old for, someone beyond his own understanding. He looked convinced that he is the enlightened one. There was an acquired brand of sufiyana softness on his smug face, oblivious to the real-world chaos and failing bladders around him. But of course, I waited.
Before I get carried away with the metaphors, let me just say that Jab Harry Met Sejal is a nothing film. This is considerably worse than being, say, a bad film. It is by far Imtiaz Ali’s worst – and by “worst” I don’t mean “least best” here. It’s just a weak, meandering, near-dishonest and awfully misrepresentative film.
The director has a reputation for making nothingness feel relevant and timely, because this is a generation used to romanticizing its own problems. In fact, I’ve always liked the way he wants us to feel about ourselves.
But the storyteller in him has failed. He has taken it too far this time. He has looked inward so much and so often that even when there’s nothing to find – as is evident here – he thinks you will see something. The quasi-profound tagline is a warning, too: what you seek (but doesn’t exist) is seeking you. I might have paraphrased that a little.
The one actor who could internalize and perhaps justify his (younger) protagonists’ un-filmable incoherent anxiety, Ranbir Kapoor, isn’t a part of this film. I could feel the band of wavelength snapping during Tamasha, and this one seems to just be an empty blown-up version of Ved and Tara’s aspirational Corsica stint. It’s about two characters who know exactly what they are escaping from, and exactly who they are, as well as precisely who we need to see them become.
Usually, the couples occupying this journeyman template are not exactly acquainted with themselves; they find themselves through difficult, politically incorrect love. I refuse to use the term “coming of age,” but let’s just say they stop aging.
But Harry (Khan) and Sejal (Anushka Sharma) are disgustingly self-aware – almost as if they’ve watched an Imtiaz Ali movie marathon and flown to Europe to “create their own conflicts” and subvert all those inferiority-complex-themed millennial dialogues. I could swear there are points in this film where each of them virtually narrates the essence of their personas and complex feelings to each other, while playing the world’s most futile mind games.
I’m cheap but cool, he says. I’m sisterly but woke, she (sort of) says. When they run out of tears, vacant stares and glorified role-play sessions (“If you’re lonely, I can be your girlfriend till we find the ring,” apparently), Pritam’s soundtrack is used as a distraction instead of a narrative device. There’s nothing like a silly film to ruin good music.
Sejal ditches her flight out of Amsterdam after a typical Gujarati-family trip, and convinces her tour-guide Harry to accompany her across Europe to find her lost engagement ring. Since he is a tour guide, that makes him a “wanderer” and womanizer by default – one with no home (literally), no character, no love, no friends and no other dimensions.
He has slept with half his lady clients, and decides to do the decent thing and warn Sejal of the same, too. It’s almost like a superstar flashing his dimples and warning his lady fans that what his sexiness (and not craft) does to them is not his responsibility. At least he is warning them, right? Her reaction: warn him that she can actually be that bad a girl. I’m not sure what her scene is.
So she spends the entire film alternating between an inconsistent Kathiyawadi accent and thick Ahmedabad-Gujarati-medium accent and trying to prove that she is “laayak” – in short, she teases and tests him, and creates ground for a 2017 man-child to turn into a 1990s lover boy. Either way, there is always an excuse to expose us to the Hindi cinema’s ugliest crier – I could write a column on how Khan’s on-screen crying is the cinematic equivalent of emotional demonetization.
Throw in an idiotic Prague nightclub spat with some Russian gangsters, and a tasteless Lisbon experience with a shady Bangladeshi crook, and there’s enough mortal “trouble” to make the two human film-trailers fall for each other. After every intense night of unrequited feelings and almost-sex, there comes a morning where both of them return to default chirpy mode and act like rejected Imtiaz Ali protagonists.
There’s also a wedding in Frankfurt that feels like a bad Kunal Kohli film. In fact, I see no other movie that could have merited the title “Half Girlfriend,” given that Harry and Sejal treat their designer adventure as an interminable honeymoon without a tag.
To Khan’s credit, he initially looks like he enjoys this no-strings-attached life here, until everyone remembers this is a new-age film and he must actually be a lost little Punjabi boy craving to belong. In short, he should be the opposite of Sejal’s furiously baffling character – a frustrated but smiley-faced girl begging to be exploited on the eve of her wedding. Together, they become part of a badly perceived relationship that raises Aditya Chopra’s slightly misunderstood (but equally banal) Befikre a few notches higher in my eyes.
Later in the restroom when I felt much lighter, I observed many other boys stride in and look at the mirrors. They all seemed to be visualizing themselves in white shirts and blue jeans, with NRI breeze blowing through their naturally dark locks.
For these minutes, all of them thought they were Shah Rukh Khan. At some point in life, I’d have understood their moment. After all, I used to be one of them. But today, I just felt like slapping all of them.
Maybe I’m too old. If I said what we’re all really thinking – that everyone involved in this film is too old to truly understand us – the restroom boys might have cried on my face.