It breaks my heart to write this, but Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, the rakish matinee idol who could romance a stone with an inherent sexiness and suaveness, has become rusty.
Jab Harry Met Sejal, his new romantic comedy which features him as a jaded tourist guide based in Europe who reluctantly falls in love with a young, delightful Gujarati woman (Anushka Sharma), is the creative equivalent of a honeymoon that turns sour.
The story of director Imtiaz Ali’s film goes something like this. Khan plays a worldly wise rake Harinder Singh.
Harry, as he is fondly called, isn’t a good man, he tells the disarming and young Sejal, who seeks his help to find her missing engagement ring somewhere in Europe. He has the propensity to sleep around with women that he tours with. But Sejal is undeterred and laughs off his indiscretions.
Together, they traipse around Europe looking for her ring, but end up in a vicious circle of longing, love and lust.
Sound familiar? Yes. Does it work? Not always.
But the first half of the film has some golden moments between the lead pair. Harry and Sejal warm up to us instantly with their easy camaraderie and chemistry. Conversations flow easy and we trip over their blossoming friendship. It’s potent with possibilities. So far, so good.
Sharma brings her A-game into this role of a Gujarati lawyer, who is quick to size everyone up monetarily. The stereotype of Gujaratis being a heady mix of tightfistedness, sweet-natured-yet-painfully pragmatic is wonderfully exploited in this European cross-country love story.
While Sharma seems to be having a ball with her Gujarati accent and exaggerated coltish mannerisms, Khan looks haggard and underwhelmed. As far as stories go, there’s not much for the actors to hold on to, but the pair manages to keep us hooked in the first half.
But the second half spirals into this cloyingly intense and melodramatic territory.
Sejal, who consistently expresses her disdain for professional tour guides indicating their class divide, is constantly seeking validation from a stranger like Harry. Her provocative, flirtatious banter in which she asks him if he finds her as physically desirable like the women that he normally dates is disturbing to watch. Why does she need an approval from a person whom she doesn’t particularly respect? She taunts him about his job, but wants him to desire her in the next breath has toxic bond written all over it.
Harry’s troubled existence isn’t explored either, leaving the viewers unsatisfied with the twists. Just a scene about his unfilled ambition of becoming a singer is half-baked and conveniently added to justify the lead hero's tendency to break into throaty songs.
While it’s delightful to watch Khan in the first half, his intense love-lorn turn in the second half weigh the film down. Khan looks haggard too, making it difficult for us to buy into their love story.
The climax isn’t ground-breaking and is studded with corny, saccharine dialogues between two lovers.
However, the cinematography that highlights the beauty of a handful European countries is pleasing to watch. But we wish that all that energy and love was devoted to developing a cracking love story. Watch this film if you are strictly a Shah Rukh Khan or Anushka Sharma fan. Others will hesitate to put a ring on this romantic comedy.
Jab Harry Met Sejal
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Stars: Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma
Stars: 2.5 out of 5