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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Review: Khan and Sharma don't exactly sizzle together in Jab Harry Met Sejal

Christine Iyer says it's a disappointing effort by director Imtiaz Ali

Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma in a scene from Jab Harry Met Sejal. Courtesy Yash Raj Films
Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma in a scene from Jab Harry Met Sejal. Courtesy Yash Raj Films

Jab Harry Met Sejal

Directed by: Imtiaz Ali

Starting: Anushka Sharma, Shah Rukh Khan

2.5 stars

Of all the plot devices that could have been used to set up Jab Harry Met Sejal, the film employs the premise of a young woman (Anushka Sharma as the bubbly Sejal) who is determined to find her misplaced engagement ring. Because it could figuratively be anywhere on her just-ended jaunt around some of Europe’s major cities, she deliberately misses her flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai, enlists the help of her reluctant tour guide (Shah Rukh Khan as the grumpy Harry), and goes on an improbable quest for her missing jewellery. It's a ridiculous plan, because what are the chances of finding it?

The two seem to grasp this fact, at least subconsciously, because they hardly spend any time looking for the ring. Instead, they while away their precious days (don't they have jobs?) arguing and dancing as they struggle with their feelings for each other. Their many travels throw them into one precarious adventure after another, which mostly involve escaping from bloodthirsty thugs in a rather contrived fashion.

Khan and Sharma don't exactly sizzle together, but they are fantastic in the funny bits, playing off each other’s lines and facial expressions very well. A seasoned actress, Sharma leads from the front, holding up the rather weak script with her versatility. She does a valiant job of portraying a strait-laced Gujarati, complete with the well-researched accent, which only slips some of the time. Sharma’s Sejal is also very liberal. It seems like a direct defiance of the conservative background from which she purportedly comes, and lends the character an aura of authenticity.

And then there's the film’s biggest draw, Khan. In some of his promotional interviews ahead of the film’s release, the 51-year-old said the character he portrays is a mature one, and is in a completely different league from his past romantic roles. But the middle-aged Harry turns out to be a rather smug and weary tour guide, who takes large groups of stereotypical Indian tourists around various European landmarks. He is an inveterate loner, is barely civil to his clients, and is a womaniser. Also, it speaks rather lowly of Harry that he thinks nothing of gate-crashing Sejal’s wedding reception to profess his love for her (talk about bad timing). But then Khan has ruined a wedding before, in Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). So much for maturity, SRK.

That said, Khan is utterly believable as a lone wolf as he stares pensively into space and looks longingly at the woman with whom he's falling in love. In an attempt to give the man some depth - and to appeal to expat Indian audiences the world over - Harry is made out to be a former farmer who dreams of home. He yearns for the undulating wheat fields of the Indian village he left behind in search of his fortune overseas as a singer. But this is barely explained, conveyed as it is through a quick montage of sepia scenes that appear all of twice in the film.

This is where Jab Harry Met Sejal falters, in its neglect to properly develop the lead characters, and in its dogged pursuit of a joyful finale.

It's a disappointing effort by director Imtiaz Ali, otherwise a perceptive filmmaker. Ali has many good films to his credit, including Jab We Met (2007), and Highway (2014), so it's rather baffling that Jab Harry Met Sejal lacks his usual nuance and depth. Even the supporting actors, such as Chandan Roy Sanyal, who is hilarious as Gas, an illegal immigrant and criminal, don't have enough screen time to lend credibility to their roles.

As the bemusing love story progresses, you can't help hoping the film doesn't end up as a simplistic when-boy-meets-girl yarn. Alas; instead of coming to terms with their obvious incompatibility, Harry and Sejal go the way of hundreds of cheesy Bollywood romances.

But does all this matter? Because audiences will throng cinemas in the thousands, all for Khan. In the end, Jab Harry Met Sejal will quite possibly be declared a hit, even if it’s nothing to write home about, simply because SRK stars in it.

Jab Harry Met Sejal is in cinemas now.