Quite a lot has been written, spoken and discussed about the recently released film Jab Harry Met Sejal. Nothing that we pen down will perhaps sound new to you. But a thought that has stayed with us long after we left the theatre is that there’s something inherently wrong with Anushka Sharma’s character, Sejal. Does she need help? If not help-help, maybe a little counseling?
Sejal is like a metaphor of contradictions and inconsistencies. Contradictions surrounding the build-up of her character, the pretentious portrayal of her character and of course inconsistencies regarding the needs and desires of her character. And the fact that it comes from Imtiaz Ali, the sole filmmaker who has etched a rainbow of complex, self-battling yet substantial characters – Jab We Met’s Geet and Aditya to Tamasha’s Ved and Taara, Highway's Veera and Mahabir, Love Aaj Kal's Meera and Jai, Socha Na Tha's Aditi and Viren and Rockstar's Heer and Janardhan - is a little disheartening.
Born and brought up in a conservative Gujarati family, Sejal is a lawyer by profession – LLB in legal family matters. She possesses a certain desire to explain her name's meaning to everyone she meets. She’s engaged to god-knows-who in the first half and a blink-and-miss fiancée on a video call in the second. On a family trip to Europe, she loses her engagement ring and decides to not return until she finds it after fighting with her fiancée. She, somehow, convinces her tour-guide to accompany her on the pursuit of finding the lost ring. And post that, it’s only inexcusable how incongruities unfold.
In a moment, one’d like to call it a work of conscious and subconscious – that while consciously she’s journeying back to find her engagement ring, subconsciously she’s only looking for an escape from the shackles of what her future marriage holds and that somewhere she’s also rooting for an adventure she hasn't yet been on. For which, ring perhaps is a fitting symbolism. But certain questions regarding why she does what she does still remain to be answered.
In an initial scene with Harry, her tour guide, she hands out an indemnity bond to him and makes it clear that if at all they indulge in a sexual interaction amounting or not amounting to full intercourse, he’ll be absolved of all legal charges. The makers would have us believe that she’s confident, a woman of her words and that she sure knows when to draw a line. And that she’s definitely not in this journey for pleasure.
Yet, the scenes that follow highlight how she craves validation from men – be it her faceless fiancée or Harry. That how she’s in a constant need of being assured that she’s “laayak” and that she’s worth lusting for. That how she follows a tour guide only to find out if he finds her sexy enough.
In fact, at one point, Sejal directly asks Harry if he’s trying to hit on her. And as soon as he denies any such act, she gets back saying, “Kyun main sexy nahin hoon kya”.
While it’s understood that it’s because a sexual drive towards her is missing from her fiancée’s end, it remains unclear as to why she continuously follows her tour guide – both metaphorically and literally. And honestly, after a point, there’s absolutely no sense of who Sejal is in reality.
It also becomes rather difficult to fathom as to why she’s so much in need of being objectified that when Harry calls her more “laayak” than a certain woman; she gets so elated that she probably forgets why they set out tracing back their steps through Amsterdam, Prague and Budapest in the first place.
But soon after all this, when it’s clear that the two on some level have fallen for each other, she retaliates saying she’s not the kind of woman who’d run away with a tour guide. Why would you follow him to night clubs then? Why would you seduce him? Why would you dance around wishing he'd swoon over you? Why?
Being so complex herself, it’s also a little amusing how she trivializes Harry’s loneliness post the Radha song and how she’s okay with Harry considering her as his girlfriend for time being. Plus, what’s with Sejal asking Harry to literally play her fiancee Rupen while searching for rings in cafes and on streets? It felt like a scene only meant to give Shah Rukh Khan enough time to be his charming best. Because how else does he do it no?
Not just this, a certain scene wherein the two are running away from a mafia gang of sorts, Sejal breaks down in a moment of crisis. So much so that she even fears that if her fiancée finds out about the ongoing incident, he’ll yell at her. In a moment that a lawyer’s sensibilities should’ve taken over, she lies there vulnerable and being disturbingly self-aware. All of a sudden.
Moreover, the entire perplexity of being a Gujarati seems to be tackled only by the accent. An accent so disturbing that it starts getting on to you. Have said this before, will say this again – putting a ‘ne’ after every sentence doesn’t make one a Gujarati.
A filmmaker of Ali's caliber could've carved a personality graph strong enough to get the viewers invested, but with Jab Harry Met Sejal, neither Sejal nor Harry will taste the success which Ali's other characters continue to live on.