By Udita Jhunjhunwala
The author is a critic, film fan, student of Spanish and terrible taker of selfies.
Imtiaz Ali depends on metaphors and uses travel as a device to open up trapped emotions and desires. But these ideas, which were strongly explored in Jab We Met, Rockstar and Highway, are too superficially addressed in Jab Harry Met Sejal, a 143-minute tour of Europe, which is 100 minutes too long.
Writer-director Ali’s idea of a girl finding herself while searching for her missing engagement ring in the company of a womanising tour guide is a slim premise. As they retrace their steps traversing Europe from Amsterdam to Prague to Budapest and Lisbon, their search for one thing, but obviously, leads to the discovery of the unexpected. No points for guessing that somewhere between the canals of Amsterdam, the arches of Prague’s Charles Bridge and Budapest’s terrace cafés, Harry and Sejal don’t just find each other, they also encounter their own true selves.
Logic is totally cast aside here. Sejal abruptly leaves her family and embarks on a retrieval trip around Europe, in the solitary company of a virtual stranger, Harry. Her family seems okay with this plan, and this wastefulness. For the amount it would have cost for travel, stay, food, partying etc, Sejal may as well have just bought a new ring.
Harry is a lonely man. He finds comfort in meaningless one-night stands. He’s the modern day equivalent of the proverbial ship that passes in the night, never dropping anchor for long. Sejal, for all the conservatism you might expect of a Gujarati girl about to have an arranged marriage, is rather self-confident. What’s disappointing though is that what she seems to seek is acknowledgement, not of her beauty or brains (sister-type) but her sexiness (one night stand material). Her half-hearted search for an heirloom ring is also a full-hearted pre-marriage honeymoon.
Besides one scene with Harry’s tour group colleague Mayank (Aru Krishansh Verma), the only actors you see throughout the first half are Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma who prattle on about nothing at all. Several scenes are airy and silly, such as one scene in a Prague nightclub from where Harry and Sejal have to flee. Considering the sketchy story – looking for this ring – it needn’t have taken as long as it does to get to the expected end.
The relationship between Harry and Sejal also gets a bit creepy, as one between an older man and a young woman would. It’s particularly off-putting when Sejal suggests that until the ring is found, Harry should pretend she is his girlfriend. And the next thing you know they are – platonically of course – sharing a queen size bed and singing songs on medieval balustrades.
Usually an Ali film scores on music, but here the songs are unable to touch a chord or find the soul of this film, perhaps because that’s the very thing that is absent from this story. What’s also missing from the screen is tingling, crackling chemistry between the leads because a largely two-hander, that follows a burgeoning attraction and self-discovery, needed fireworks.
While Khan does his best to reignite the magic of the romantic hero he so finely defined in the 90s, Harry is no Raj or Rahul. He certainly has his moments, as does Sharma with both being far more effective in the humorous and cutesy moments.
KU Mohanan’s cinematography, Aki Narula’s costumes and breathtaking European locales can only do so much. If the baseline for Jab Harry Met Sejal is ‘what you seek is seeking you’, then it’s time for Imtiaz Ali to seek a new canvas, because the idea of characters travelling in order to find answers within themselves seems to be suffering from acute jetlag.