Man, I don’t even know where to start.
I mean, usually I have an angle when I start to write about a film – some primary thing that I took away from it that becomes the center of my ramblings.
But with Jab Tak Hai Jaan, there’s just too much going on.
First of all, it’s a Yash Chopra film. Not only that, it’s his last film – a fact that I still find utterly inconceivable.
Second of all, Shahrukh Khan.
Thirdly, the above are making it very difficult for me to approach this with any amount of objectivity.
And yet -
Fourth of all, I have major, major issues with the story and script (ADITYA CHOPRA YOU ARE THE ABSOLUTE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE).
So. Let’s start with -
Inspired heavily from Graham Greene’s novel (or more likely, the Hollywood adaptation of it starring Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes) The End Of The Affair, the central conceit of the plot is about a girl (Katrina Kaif’s Meera) who makes a dubious bargain with God : save my beloved’s life (SRK’s Samar, following a car accident) and I promise You I will never see him again.
In the Hollywood film, this bargain is striking and believable – and leads to questions in the viewer’s mind – deep questions, like the nature of Faith, the power of Love, and indeed – what is God anyway, and is He even real and what happens when we break a promise to Him?
Compelling stuff and seemingly ripe for a Yash Chopra adaptation, a milieu of film that pretty much designed the Art of the Filmy Sacrifice, where more than one plot turn has occurred because “God” literally comes out of somewhere (usually via rain) to save the day.
And yet, and yet – in JTHJ this central conceit, the lifeblood of the plot – is shoddily handled. Meera’s “promise” seems utterly childish and silly, therefore unbelievable, never justifying what should’ve been the torturous inner struggle of a woman torn between her faith in God and her love.
What saves it to an extent are the scenes where Shahrukh’s Samar challenges her faith – magnificently convincing as the man who wants nothing to do with Meera’s God and sets out to prove that he, not God, decides his fate. Armed thus, he faces the very death Meera wants to save him from by diffusing bombs everyday.
But before that, he charms the pants off of us by singing, dancing, romancing and (oh yes) KISSING (OMG BEST SCREEN KISS OUT OF BOLLYWOOD EVER EVER EVER).
Excuse Me While I Gush About The Kiss
I mean, he can totally ditch that no-kissing policy now. Like right now, and for good. Because as a lifelong Bolly-viewer, I have to admit that Bolly-kissing just makes me groan because it’s so awkward. Even the one in Dhoom 2, between Ash and Hrithik. And somehow, the bigger the star, the more awkward the kiss.
But not with SRK my peeps. Not with SRK. It’s a lovely, lovely, non-squeamish, heartwarming, like “I can’t believe that actually worked” kind of kiss.
AND HOLYSHIT SHAHRUKH KHAN IS KISSING ON SCREEN!!
Fine. Enough about the kiss.
Then, there’s Anushka Sharma’s Akira. She (the Discovery Channel intern) wants to make a film on Samar after learning about the whole tragic love story slash bomb-diffusing mission and dubs him The Man Who Cannot Die.
But after watching him diffuse a couple of bombs she (of the “sleep with many men with many different accents” school of thought) totally falls in love with him. Who can blame her? He was wearing black and had a beard. And he was brooding.
Frankly though, this entire sub-plot was unnecessary and I felt that it was an Aditya Chopra concoction designed explicitly to “represent” the “modern” generation’s non-traditional values, a generation rather flatly portrayed as the kind that believes in fast sex and faster break-ups, and wouldn’t even sacrifice an iPhone if their (or their lover’s) life depended on it.
To me, Akira was a compromise made by Aditya for a generation that would scoff at “traditional” premises like sacrifice, faith & star-crossed lovers who can’t “get over it” – offering her up as a counter-balance to all that “crazy eternal-love-God stuff” going on in the main plot. The way Akira makes her exit only reiterated to me that she actually didn’t have much to do in the film at all – she ended up making no difference to either Samar or Meera, and therefore, to the story.
Which just makes me feel like – stay true to the story man. If it worked in The End Of The Affair, it would work in this film if there was enough conviction in the deeper themes it evokes. But then we all know that Aditya Chopra is a businessman first, and a storyteller second. So too much screen time is wasted on strange plot twists, coincidences and other story devices that don’t work (the entire Akira track, the memory loss track, even all the bomb diffusing stuff which has a certain metaphoric appeal but falls flat during execution, especially post-interval).
For me, that is the ultimate tragedy of JTHJ, Yashji’s last film. And Yashji, I believe, was a storyteller first and a businessman second, which is why he never compromised with the emotional components of his stories, even in a plot as “far out” and hard to swallow as Lamhe.
Not every story that is worth telling has to appease the majority. But when you seek to appease the majority by compromising the story, you end up with something rather half-baked, lacking conviction.
But Do Not Fear
Because Shahrukh Khan is there to make you forget absolutely everything I just wrote.
After all the drama and controversy of the past couple years since Ra.One, JTHJ brings back the SRK that the world fell in love with. It’s not just that he’s playing the romantic hero once again, but that he’s playing one that isn’t a caricature of the very “Raj” that the Aditya Chopra/ Karan Johar combo built.
This romantic hero is new and fresh, charming and brooding and utterly magical in every way possible. There’s no question that if there’s any one reason to watch JTHJ not once, but over and over, it’s for an SRK who proves that he still has “it” – “it” being his absolutely uncanny ability to make the viewer giddily happy simply by virtue of his screen presence.
There was a moment when I was watching him on screen (during the Challa song I think) where I had the thought that more than any other actor of his (or any) generation, Shahrukh has this amazing capacity to just warm your heart when he’s given the right character.
His performance in JTHJ reiterated to me why he is who he is. Beyond box office, beyond the King Khan label, beyond the superstardom, this man just has this innate capacity to entertain, to make happy, to make you feel all warm and gooey and fuzzy in your heart. If there’s any secret to his superstardom, I think it’s this ability – which despite all the off-screen drama, remains intact to this day, on that magical silver screen.
And no. Amazingly, he doesn’t look old or miscast at all. He’s just bloody perfect. No one has ever looked so good in either fauji fatigues or a waiter’s uniform.
Katrina & Anushka
Like I tweeted, Katrina didn’t suck as much as I expected her to, knowing that it was an important role and indeed – if Meera didn’t work, the film wouldn’t work at all. She doesn’t work 100% (there’s that vacant face expression thingy that Kat still hasn’t managed to grow out of in some scenes), and yet overall, I felt like she didn’t ruin the character or the film.
Plus she looks absolutely gorgeous, celestial almost (apt for a Yash Chopra heroine) and ultimately likable, despite the flaws of the character. Katrina is as good as her director, and her performance is only proof positive of Yash Chopra’s ability to extract touching, convincing performances. Even out of wood. (There I said it).
Surprisingly, it was Anushka that completely over-did her part as the spunky, carefree, “mast” girl. I totally wasn’t expecting her to disappoint me because she’s proven herself as a good actress and this kind of role, especially, is tailor-made for her. But I don’t know, she almost seemed a little uncomfortable, too forced, trying too hard in some of the scenes.
And it didn’t help that the character itself was tacked on to service the audience, rather than to service the story.
The striking thing about JTHJ though is that despite the glaring problems with the storytelling, it’s still addictively enjoyable. Maybe it’s because of Shahrukh’s sheer, unrelenting charm, or Katrina’s ethereal beauty or Anil Mehta’s gorgeous cinematography.
Or maybe it’s the Yash Chopra magic.
As I write this, I realize that several of his films have fallen very short in the story department (Kabhie Kabhie had quite a convoluted plot beneath all that gorgeous poetry) – but that has never taken away from his ability to weave the filmy magic such that you (or at least, I) am willing to do away with the transgressions of the script and just let myself be taken by the earnest innocence of the emotionality, and more than that – Yash Chopra’s inimitable ability to create those magical moments within celluloid relationships.
It’s something that struck me recently when I re-watched Dil To Pagal Hai, another film that tells a rather juvenile tale – and yet it’s all so eminently watchable – the characters, the scene construction, the songs and above all, the fuzzy innocence of love and hope and sacrifice and beauty all coming together to create a glorious filmy bubble bath warmly lit by candles and fragrant with rose petals.
You get that too with JTHJ and eventually, for me, it overpowered the story holes.
Finally, if there’s any one thing that justifies this being Yash Chopra’s last film, it’s Shahrukh Shahrukh and Shahrukh who clearly put his whole heart, the whole of his career, indeed his life and his love for Yash ji himself, into his performance. If for nothing else, you must watch it for him.
And of course, for Yashji.
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