“Dhundne se bhagwaan bhi mil jaata hai,” says Sejal (Anushka Sharma).
“Kaise pata? Tuney dhunda hai kabhi,” asks Harry aka Harinder Singh Nehra (Shah Rukh Khan).
Yes, like every other Imtiaz Ali film, in Jab Harry Met Sejal, too, the lead characters are on a search for something—a lost engagement ring, in this case. But, will they find what they are looking for? Probably they will, because the film ends predictably enough. The problem, however, is that as an audience you don’t find much that you expect from a filmmaker of Ali's calibre, who has explored self-discovery and love in films like Jab We Met, Rockstar and Tamasha. Neither does the romance of Shah Rukh Khan click the way Raj or Rahul in the earlier years of his career did.
Sejal, who speaks with a thick Gujarati accent, after a month of travelling with her family in Europe, leaves them to search for her missing engagement ring, which she may have lost anywhere—Amsterdam, Prague or Budapest. She doesn’t remember. Her only hope and help in her search is the tourist guide, Harry, a lonely man, who confesses to be a womaniser. But Sejal doesn’t mind, because, as she says, the problem is with Harry and not her. “Main toh nahi hun na cheap,” she says. Still, when Harry describes her as “nice, sweet and sister type”, she takes offence. She wants to be objectified. She wants to be an object of desire for the stranger she has met a while back.
And while you watch it unfold on the screen amidst the picturesque landscapes and great camerawork, you wonder if that can happen in reality. There’s much stereotyping, modelling Sejal as a typical Gujarati girl who pronounces “actually” as “ekchully” and Harry as “Herry” being just one of them. Others like she being surprised that a “gora” can be a chor; or Harry not being sure whether remembering Kulwant Kaur with whom he was fascinated in his younger days, in Punjab are just cringeworthy. “Mardo waala naam hai, Kulwant Kaur. Koi ye na samjhe ki kisi mard ko yaad kar raha hun,” Harry says while talking about it.
And it is not just the dialogues that are discomfiting, the plot-line is as bad. At one point Sejal, after realising that Harry is a lonely soul, tells him that he can consider her to be his girlfriend till the time she is around. What follows is a lot of mushy romance and, of course, songs and dance. But, can the mellifluous songs, which are usually a highlight of Ali’s films, save this one? Sadly, no. The songs, too, don’t strike a chord, except on a few rare occasions.
There are moments when the chemistry between Harry and Sejal touch you, but on the back of a thin script and almost no character graph, all of that seems futile. The concept of the film seems flawed from the beginning. The premise of embarking on a journey of self-discovery in the guise of a lost ring is silly, to say the least. And it doesn’t matter how many beautiful location one adds, or however many cities one traverses, unless there’s a stronger script, the film won’t work. And that is exactly what has happened with Jab Harry Met Sejal.
“Love stories, by and large, are similar in the sense that there is a boy and a girl, and some conflict that brings them together or tears them apart. But the storytelling makes the difference,” Anushka had told us before the release of the film. She had faith in Ali as “a director who understands the man-woman relationship deeply and has an insight that you might not have seen earlier in movies”; his deep understanding of human nature, and the flawed, broken, but still believable characters that he sketches. But, all that we see in JHMS is not that we were seeking for in a film written and directed by Ali. He relies too much on his lead pair, with almost no third character in the first half and irrelevant characters and plot in the second half. Ali misses the mark that he has built over the years. Maybe it’s time for him, too, to do some soul-searching.
Film: Jab Harry Met Sejal
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma