Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jab Harry Met Sejal Review

(Spoilers, obviously.)
We know Imtiaz Ali and his tropes:  Boy meets Girl, journey, finding love, finding yourself, blah blah blah. Simple. Simple?

Jab Harry Met Sejal, if seen simply, is a story of a girl searching for her lost engagement ring with her Euro trip guide whom she ends up falling in love with. (Of course, the ring is the metaphor for elusive true love on this journey which, in Imtiaz Ali films, is always a metaphor for life.) But more than plot, Imtiaz always delves into characters, put them in doubts, makes them question themselves, shows them the mirror. And this is where his stories are.

The Girl does find her ring -- it was always with her, deep in her bag -- while searching for an antiseptic, to nurse the wounds of the Boy. (Oh, so meta, again, and I am reminded of Irshad's line from Tamasha song, 'Safarnama', which kind of captures the essence of all his films: 'Jise dhoondha zamaane mein, mujh hi mein tha'.) This moment hits her like an epiphany. She is at a gangster's den (a comical setup though -- even gangsters in an Imtiaz Ali film go through a break-up), in a foreign country, away from home, and here she is caring for a tour guide's wounds. Worldly threats bring out your most vulnerable self. Imtiaz taught us this in Highway.

There are more Highway moments in here. The tour guide, Harry, like Mahabir, has a lost home. They both break into tears and hide it, when they find something like home in someone. Harry belongs to wheat fields in Punjab, he sings on tractors. He is a man of soil. And for him, Sejal is a woman of china clay, meant to be kept in glass shelf, handled with care. "Neat and clean", as JJ of Rockstar would say. (There is a Rockstar moment too when Harry asks for a hug.)

But Sejal is no Heer. She comes across as Geet with her worldly wisdom, but has been living a life of Veera (Highway)/Aditi (Socha Na Tha). Part of the itinerary of her first Euro trip had a "romantic" engagement, with her family. She circles the same trip again, with the same tour guide, minus the engagement, but the definition of "romantic" comes around only this time. Wasn't Highway the same, about meeting the same place differently (Veera says that she has been to Delhi before but only checks in in hotels)? Wasn't Socha Na Tha the same, about meeting the same person differently?

Problem is we see very little of the places here: Instead of establishing shots of various places, we see a map. They go to Frankfurt but to attend a ceremony, indoors. Despite of so much travelling, I don't feel I have seen those places. All they visit is nightclubs (There are four club scenes!). Tamasha was a worthier ticket, to Corsica; Rockstar to Prague, than this film. Europe should not give any tourism subsidy to Red Chillies for this film.

When Sejal meets Harry in the first minutes of the film, they are actually meeting for the second time. This time she meets the (broken) human in him and not a mechanical person on a job. Imtiaz's characters are either people we know or people we don't care to know -- both, in some or the other way, are us.

With Sejal, Imtiaz does something he hasn't done before. He imbues her with her self-aware insecurities. This modern, selfie-clicking woman is also in doubts of her self-worth. She looks for validation. Yet she has the control over her body -- she is pretty much clear in her head that her "girlfriend" arrangement with Harry is a selfish reasoning; at least she didn't intend to end up in bed with him to begin with. But these internal conflicts are like her lost ring: always there, but we didn't know of. I wanted to know more about her. Imtiaz doesn't care to explain.

He instead cares to explain the part that we already know. He, here, over explains his thoughts through the characters, primary and secondary both, making it a very verbose affair. He explained his film, milord, a crime. He explained his film which he has already made six times before! After a point, towards the end, when Harry and Sejal are talking things out, I stopped listening. Because I know Imtiaz Ali, I know his tropes.

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