(First published in DailyO )
In the only ever so slightly emotional scene in the otherwise lighter than popcorn movie, JHMS, Harry (Shah Rukh Khan) stands at a seashore and yells out to the horizon—“hello…India..”. He is on European shores and misses his home, his Punjab, his younger turbaned avatar with dreams. Just when he starts telling the deeper truth of his feelings for Sejal (Anushka Sharma), the scene is rudely interrupted by a blow on his head. The spoiler here is not this little detail, but the moment rendered incomplete. This is typically Imtiaz Ali. There is always a gem of an idea, the spark of an insight, which shines and seduces you to the story. But, dare to go close and the plot digresses and heads further into Europe’s trams, with no real purpose.
Like his previous film, ‘Tamasha’, the boy and the girl are on holiday. They met in the beautiful Corsica earlier and indulged in a lot of role-play bordering into a bipolarity of sorts. Thankfully, the characters in JHMS, are more rooted, with just enough complexity to keep us engaged. They are also holidaying. This time, across 5 countries: Prague, Amsterdam, Vienna, Lisbon and Budapest. Tamasha’s Ranbir and Deepika are quite clear that they will strictly have a holiday romance and nothing more. JHMS’s Harry and Sejal have a somewhat similar pact. Sejal has a fiancé back home amongst rich Gujju diamond merchants. She calls it fa-i-mily business.
As Harry points out, she is ‘sweet’. And pretty like porcelain vase. The ones you admire but don’t touch. In Harry, she discovers the desire to be desirable…”laayak” as they put it politely. “Laayak” is the kind of girl who is hot. So she tries to do some cool moves.
Again, there is a momentary glimpse of a fun character to explore here. A so called good girl who wants to be selfish and have some ‘bad’ moments before she goes back to the mundane dhokla- paatra, gold and diamond life of a girl who thinks Amsterdam is in France (Gujjus may hate the gentle mockery here but this part is genuinely funny).
But Imtiaz refuses to go into Sejal’s wilder side and plays it safe. Likewise, with Harry. Shahrukh’s Harry is a world weary, seasoned Romeo who is a tour guide in Europe. He would rather drive a tractor across the fields of Punjab and sing louder than the sound of the tractor. Ever since Subhash Ghai’s ‘Pardes’ and Aditya Chopra’s ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, the stories are written with one eye at the NRI box office. Which sadly, has Harry with one foot and a dimple charming every female client in Europe and the other itching to do bhangra with his only true love as desi as the makhhan or dhokla.
Whenever the real, lonely Harry emerges and allows himself to be vulnerable enough to ask for a simple hug from the sweet Sejal, the duo come closer to a romance more mature than a teenybopper lost-in-the- woods ride.
Shahrukh’s sense of comic timing, his ‘trying to be cheap’ body language, overrides his past work as the typical romantic hero with his arms spread wide. For most part of the film, he is simply engaged in a conversation with the heroine. There is not much of plot here and it would have been one monotonous version of “Before Sunrise” if it wasn’t for the interesting characters and both the actors bringing in a fresh energy that bounces off each other beautifully and the two tango better than “Rab ne bana de Jodi” and “Jab Tak Hai Jaan’.
Hopefully, in Imtiaz’s next film, we will see a wilder Sejal and a more intense Harry in a story that actually has some answers. Where they can go beyond “ tractor se unchi awaaz’ and “ gote kinare ki chunari’ on the Yash Chopra tinted Punjab fields. Until then, Anushka’s dumb Sejal ben and Shahrukh’s loser Harinder charm us enough with all the seeking and soul searching.