My biggest takeaway from Shah Rukh Khan’s new film “Jab Harry Met Sejal” is that at 51, after 25 years of cementing his image as this generation’s most popular romantic star, he’s finally transformed into the sort of sexy, dangerous ‘bad boy’ who might actually sleep with the girl. It’s true!
His Harvinder Singh Nehra aka Harry is a far cry from the PG-13 version of the irresistible charmer that he’s played so many times. The one that’s caused women to dump their fiancés at the altar or walk out on their parents, but, ironically, never posed the slightest threat to their modesty. This time, oozing sex appeal and brandishing machismo evocative of Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna in the seventies, he’s the guy your father warned you against.
Which is why it’s such a shame that he’s trapped in a film that pussyfoots its way around intimacy.
Harry is a tour guide in Europe who reluctantly helps a desperate but determined young woman named Sejal (Anushka Sharma) to retrace their steps in order to locate the engagement ring she lost during her holiday.
It’s a tricky affair. Harry, a bruised, cynical man who finds comfort in meaningless one-night stands doesn’t want Sejal to be another notch on his bedpost. She, of the funny Gujarati accent, is insulted that he doesn’t think she’s “layak” enough to be one of his conquests.
The pair rambles on about love, attraction, sex and marriage as they traverse a gorgeous landscape that includes Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest and Frankfurt in pursuit of the ring. But the ring is merely a metaphor. If you’ve watched any Imtiaz Ali film, you know that what Harry and Sejal are searching for is each other, and of course, their own true selves.
Now the truth is this shtick has gotten old. After successfully exploiting themes of self-discovery in “Jab We Met” and “Rockstar”, it became clear watching “Tamasha” that Imtiaz may be running out of ideas. There are just so many times you can romanticize self-healing and coming-of-age before it all starts to feel contrived. In the case of this film, frankly Harry and Sejal come off as characters in search of a plot.
The film starts out light and breezy. The first half coasts along on the strength of the actors’ charm and their chemistry, even the verbal sparring between them delivers many laughs. But post-intermission it slips into a quagmire of pointlessness and repetition before it becomes a complete slog. There are way too many songs that stretch the already flimsy narrative, and diversions like the run-in with a Bangladeshi goon (Chandan Roy Sanyal) are excruciating.
Imtiaz, who has been frequently – and let’s face it, prematurely – described as the Yash Chopra of this generation, falters on account of an undercooked script. There is just not enough meat on the bones to keep you invested in the protagonists’ journey, or in their relationship, which feels clumsy and muddled but not in an interesting, honest way.
It’s a pity, because Shah Rukh Khan breathes life into a character that could so easily have been a turn-off. His performance is one of the film’s few strengths. Despite the baffling, contradictory nature of Sejal, Anushka Sharma works hard to imbue her with genuine feeling. The two actors deserved a better film, and so did we. I’m going with two out of five.
Rating: 2 / 5
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