6 Aug 2017

Movie Talk: Why Jab Harry Met Sejal is Imtiaz Ali's Biggest Letdown Yet

Imtiaz Ali's directorial debut Socha Na Tha (2005) was a refreshing, entertaining youngsters film. Travel was seemingly incidental in a lovely sweet film that stood out for its little nudge-away-from-formula writing.

The Unending Journey
The director first won over audience's hearts and the box-office with Jab We Met (2007).Then followed a series of movies with travel as a metaphor.

The beautifully juxtapositioned Love Aaj Kal (2009), wayward but heartfelt Rockstar (2011). The physical journey and the journey within. Chaos, suffering, heartbreak, and self-discovery. The grossly underrated Tamasha (2015) is my favorite Imtiaz Ali film. It is a culmination of all Ali had revealed in earlier films about his side on love, travel and life.

Ali's strength is layering an all-out commercial, Hindi film formulaic story with strong, poetic writing. But isn't it time to move on from travel? How about a film that tells of the time between journeys. The time when a person is still, in transit. I long for out of the box variations from Ali now, not the same loop. As the Tamasha tagline goes: Why always the same story? 

Jab Harry Met Sejal in comparison is a conventional rom-com that banks very hard on its lead stars to pull it off. For the first time, the writing is not wrapped in layers. Here's a list of what else doesn't work:

Creepy Casanova? No Problemo! 
Harry is a self-confessed womanizer, yet Sejal just wants to hang out with him in a distant city, day and night. Who is Sejal, freak or just plain foolish?

Star Power Over Story
Sejal's family is not conservative, they are only pretending to be so, by the looks of it. Why else would a 'strict' family allow an engaged daughter, alone in a distant country, search for a ring with a tour guide they barely know for days? Because he is Shah Rukh Khan. Khan hasn't yet deflowered a woman on screen, at least not when he is romancing one. The family must know.

Ten Second Trivia:In his two-decade filmography, Khan has slept with women on camera occasionally. Memorably in Maya Memsaab (1993) and as part of a brutal revenge and murder in the entertaining, morally ambiguous anti-hero blockbuster Baazigar (1993). 

Beech Beech Mein has no story premise, it just begins, plays and ends

Song After Song After Song

Imtiaz Ali has delved into complexities and contradictions of his main protagonists in all his previous films. It made the predictable 'lovers unite!' endings just a milestone. The fun was in the journey and moments. He makes a startling exception in Jab Harry Met Sejal. The mushy romance has no ground, too many songs and dance bits underline this mush with soap-bubble lather. It's a huge turn-off.

This Sejal Character  
Sejal is free-minded, adventurous and chirpy, a repeat take on Ali's previous female leads. Sejal's casualness stands out weird here. She strangely gives no thought to her fiancee, just because Harry's around. Should we conclude that when Shah Rukh Khan is around, you give in to him. It is a star surrender contrivance, that kills any audience relatability to the romance.  

The Imtiaz Ali Standard
We have expected a certain quality from Imtiaz Ali films. That is where Jab Harry Met Sejal disappoints the most. Did top star presence affect his writing from going all out? Rather play it safe and sugary?

A decade of romance + poetic travel metaphors + good looking lovers + self-discovery songs is not the issue. We have enjoyed those movies. But repeating that same template here with nothing new to add, that killed it.

On hindsight, this may be where Imtiaz Ali moves out of the typecast to other genres of cinema. He may yet surprise us. The journey may have just begun for him.

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