‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, Yash Chopra’s last film, like many of his other previous cinematic outings, is a film about love. As simple as that.
Everything else is secondary in this tale of love and longing; every other narrative device is superficial and extraneous to the central theme of love. Love is the intangible force that exerts so great a pull on the characters’ lives that their collective destinies are shaped by this one absolute power.
The story revolves around Samar Anand, a carefree Punjabi gabroo jawan who, by his own admission, arrives in London to earn lots and lots of pounds. The 25 year old rustic simpleton (played charmingly by vintage Shah Rukh Khan) from the green fields of Punjab ends up working multiple odd jobs in London, which ultimately lead him to Meera (Katrina Kaif). The part-time singer is enlisted by billionaire heiress Kaif, who wants to learn a full Punjabi song for her doting papa’s upcoming 50th birthday. In return, she promises to teach Samar English, and turn him into a “true English gentleman”.
Of course, the pair is irresistibly drawn to one another, and ends up falling in love. What follows are some amazing Yash Chopra-esque cinematic moments filled with love. Amidst the cold, snowy backdrop of London city, Samar and Meera fall in love while swaying sexily to the beats of ‘Ishq Shava’. The build up to the song deserves a special mention, with Katrina literally setting the London underground dance floor on fire with her sizzling moves. The drum beats of ‘Ishq dance’ build up to a high-pitched energetic frenzy, and you can almost feel the drum beats reverberate in your soul. Katrina effortlessly plays seductress, and this could well be the sole reason the filmmaker casted her in his magnum opus!
Alas, their romance is short-lived as Katrina’s Meera wakes up to the call of familial duty, and barters her love for Samar’s life, in an unconvincing deal she makes with God.
Act two: A decade later, Samar reinvents himself as the fearless bomb-squad army man, who embraces death each day just so he can prove a point to Meera’s “Sir Jesus”. Along the way, he meets Akira, an energetic, vibrant 21 year old, who is so focused on her career that she has no time for love. Anushka is spectacular as the bubbly documentary filmmaker, who inevitably falls for the silent, somber and stubbled Samar. She breathes life into the film with her joie de vivre, and makes the audience hope against hope that Samar picks this lovely lady instead of staid, dutiful, archaic Meera, played uninspiringly by the gorgeous, but wooden Katrina Kaif.
A whole lot of twists and turns later, which include Samar succumbing to retrograde amnesia in an unbelievably redundant accident, and the heroines trying to shock him out of his celestial disease by using badly reasoned white lies. Of course, the plot culminates after 3 long hours, in an inevitable Chopra-esque happy ending, but one that doesn’t leave you satiated.
What works in the film is, of course, Shah Rukh Khan. He endears as Samar in both life stages; as the impish, young man who serenades the city of London with his boyish charm, as the man who sweeps Katrina off her feet by restraining his instincts and vowing to “never cross the line” with her. And also, as the quintessential Hindi film hero, who is always gold-hearted, and who rescues the damsels in distress time and time again; the morally upright hero of vintage Bollywood films.
Shah Rukh Khan is the modern day reinterpretation of the classic “Raj”. His Samar is intense, loving, brimming over with love; and yet is cruel, unforgiving and stubborn. He is the cynical atheist who challenges Meera’s omniscient Lord, and is forward and modern (case in point: the multiple kissing and lovemaking scenes, which were alien to Yash Chopra’s vintage love stories). It is a return to compromised innocence, which is in keeping with the times. He breathes life into the film and is its beating heart and soul.
In an earlier candid interview, Shah Rukh had revealed that Yashji’s brief to him was simple: “Just love her.” And love her he did! With all of his heart. Anushka, in one of her career best performances as Akira is feisty, fearless and a fantastic foil to Shah Rukh’s staid, mature army officer Samar.
The gloriously short but effective cameo by Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, who plays Meera’s divorcee mother, is worth a special mention. The duo plays the ever-in-love couple, who waited for their time to come, and ended up with each other outside of wedlock. Rishi as the vineyard owner, with glass of red wine in hand, is charming as Imran, Meera’s mother’s lover who had the courage of conviction and faith in undying love. In a touching moment, Meera lovingly looks upon her man and her step father, engaged in light-hearted banter, only to realize that these are two men of the same mould: the real-life “Raj’s”, who are willing to endure heartbreak and separation for the longest time, when promised a happy ending with their lady loves.
What works against the film, being as unbiased an unemotional as I can be while critiquing the late Yash Chopra’s finale before his tragic demise, were a lot of jarring notes in an otherwise familiar tune. These are unsightly blemishes on the visage of an otherwise beautiful and poetic film. The length, for one, is a hindering factor. The script itself is quite flimsy, and the second half of the film is somewhat patchy and tedious to sit through.
The back-and-forth tossing of SRK like a volleyball, between the two ladies, is unnecessary. Katrina looks bored throughout the film, and fails to express the epic love that Chopra intended; which is a pity because hers was the meatier female role, that of the quintessential Yash Chopra heroine of yore, but she couldn’t quite sink her teeth into it. Music maestro A.R Rahman’s tunes seem forced and uninspired, formulaic and frivolous; but the characters try their best to breathe life into the songs by expressing the undying emotions of love on celluloid. The visuals that accompany the songs are, undoubtedly, magnificent and perfectly stunning.
A little stricter hand at the editing table, a snip here and a chop there for maybe this scene or that, would have really transformed the film and made it sublime. The fault was not with the intent, but with its execution: we wholeheartedly laughed, and cried, and sang and danced with the protagonists; but sadly we couldn’t relate to their outdated methodsof love. If only they had managed to not just tug at our heartstrings, but touch our soul. Such a shame.
In all honesty, keeping aside the emotional significance of this film, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ is no ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge’; nor is it the classic Yash Chopra ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ or ‘Veer Zaara’. ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ is its own film, one that should be taken at face value, and the cinegoer shouldn’t dare make a comparison to Yashji’s greatest love stories.
We’re left with a seemingly incomplete tryst with Yashji’s cinema; we’re left unsettled and wondering at what could have possibly been the most fitting farewell for the virtuoso filmmaker, but what instead turned into an insipid mere goodbye; one that lacked the most vital ingredients required to uplift the film and etch it firmly in the hallowed halls of the finest, most moving, beautiful cinema.
The question that underlines the film will most certainly get asked of the film as well: Is love enough?