Imtiaz Ali is the filmmaker who introduced something different to Bollywood romance with his first few films. And with Shah Rukh Khan being the King of Romance and Anushka Sharma a perfect embodiment of fluttering heartbeats, together, they could have created magic.
Imtiaz Ali depends on metaphors and uses travel as a device to open up trapped emotions and desires. But these ideas, which were strongly explored in Jab We Met, Rockstar and Highway, are too superficially addressed in Jab Harry Met Sejal.
The plot revolves mainly around Shah Rukh Khan who plays Harry a.k.a. Harindar Singh Nehra, a Punjab-born tour guide in Europe who is forced to accompany Sejal Zhaveri (Anushka Sharma) on a trans-continental search for her lost engagement ring. Harry had been assigned as a tour guide for Sejal’s group — consisting of her family and friends — as they travelled across Europe for a month, when her boyfriend Rupen proposed marriage to her, and slipped that ring on her finger. She promptly misplaced it. Rupen sees her carelessness as an indicator of her lack of commitment, so she decides to stay back, find it in the haystack that is Europe and prove to him how much she loves him.
Harry is a lonely man. He finds comfort in meaningless one-night stands. Sejal, for all the conservatism you might expect of a Gujarati girl about to have an arranged marriage, is rather self-confident. What she seems to seek is acknowledgement, not of her beauty or brains but her sexiness(one night stand material).
This set-up of the plot gave Imtiaz Ali the opportunity to combine his two favourite cinematic genres – road and romance. The locations (Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, Lisbon and Frankfurt) are picturesque, of course, and cinematographer KU Mohanan delivers on the visuals. The same cannot be said of Ali’s writing of his characters’ motivations.
The main problem with “Jab Harry Met Sejal” is that Ali seems to have run out of ideas to say old things in new ways. Dressing up his characters differently or giving them accents doesn’t hide the fact that Harry and Sejal come across as one-dimesional, singularly uninteresting people who barely have a backstory or motivation. Harry’s troubled past at his village in Punjab is alluded to, but never really resolved. This is a script that doesn’t bother to be different, and it is a huge pity.
For the amount it would have cost for travel, stay, food, partying etc, Sejal may as well have just bought a new ring.
As far as the performances are concerned, Khan does his best to reignite the magic of the romantic hero he so finely defined in the 90s. Harry is no Raj or Rahul but he certainly has his moments. In spite of their characters’ lack of depth, Shah Rukh and Anushka do engage us in glimpses of what could have been if only the story would’ve been a little different with both being far more effective in humorous and cutesy moments.
Shah Rukh Khan is ageing like wine and Anushka Sharma has the infectious verve and charisma to match him pop for pop, crackle for crackle, spark for spark. Harry-Sejal’s premise is beyond jaded, but the Sharma-Khan on-screen equation is refreshing to watch.
As far as the visual experience goes, Jab Harry Met Sejal does deliver. So does the music. But if an air-tight story and an introspective reflection is what you’re looking for like all other Imtiaz Ali flicks, the film fails to live up to the expectations. For ardent fans of Shah Rukh and Anushka, this film is far easier to watch but for genuine film enthusiasts, it’s a disappointment.