This birth, next birth. This generation, that generation. That God, this God. Empty, rhetorical conversations with God, in the garb of life-affirming faith. Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ) has archaic ideas about love and existence, mostly concocted in its regressive characters’ heads.
Unrequited love hopes for consummation in the next birth. The leading lady is a fatalistic believer in religion and self-denial. For a film spanning 3 hours, these antics, propelled by passionate love, are sore and laughable. The story of JTHJ, written by Aditya Chopra and Devika Bhagat, isn’t much of a story—just a patchwork of tried-and-tested situations, disclosing any of which will kill your thrill of guessing the next predictable turn of events.
The best of talent comes together in Chopra’s swansong. Gulzar’s lyrics, A.R. Rahman’s music, Anil Mehta’s cinematography and Hindi cinema’s reigning romantic matinee idol Shah Rukh Khan. In all his romances, Chopra has translated romance on to the screen lyrically, and there are some of those trademark flourishes in JTHJ—realized in some beautiful scenes.
The basic template of this tepid and outdated story is Chopra’s earlier films. There is no surprising dimension or nuance to the love story, which involves a struggling young Londoner, an odd-jobs man who can charm the pants off people with his broken English, and who, due to a preposterous twist of fate, becomes an expert in the bomb defusal squad of the Indian Army (Samar Anand, played by Khan). Meera (Katrina Kaif), a wealthy object of affection with a traumatic childhood, is regressive and unable to take control of her life. The third in the triangle is a 21-year-old documentary film-maker who is wooing the Discovery Channel head honchos with a film on the lover boy who is now the soldier with a tough exterior (Akira, played by Anushka Sharma). Wish fulfilment, really, but not in this film.
There is a hole in the basic template, which Chopra made his own in his long career—poetic, rhapsodic music that beautifies his scenes, even his characters. Rahman’s music dilly-dallies along the formulaic and the original; there are flashes of genius in the way he uses voice, but overall the music is remarkably ineffective. Mehta’s cinematography—the way he and the director use the locations, London and Ladakh—has the stamp of a seasoned hand. Some of the dialogues are memorable.
Towards the end, when the plot is very obviously done with its meandering and things head towards a climax, an insufferable number of scenes go into bizarre lovers’ exchanges. Fervent sighs and tears encumber these lengthy scenes. Khan’s histrionics become tiresome and his familiar weaknesses as an actor are pronounced, overshadowing the spunk and magnetism his persona lends to the role—his reputation as a romantic hero, firmly and unmistakably in a tradition which Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand steered, is intact.
Kaif is porcelain—cold and without texture. In the best scenes, she is an apparition in white. Sharma is a bundle of nervous energy. No surprises there either; except in the moony scheme of things, she is a vibrant, if not an entirely realistic, punctuator.
For Chopra, cinema was about big locations, stars, billowing pallus. He loved the film camera. In his best films, these elements cohered and added up to a vision. It may have been an idealized vision of love, which Hindi films have always celebrated, and which Chopra’s work almost institutionalized. JTHJ is far from the best in that tradition. It is strikingly out of tune with the age, and with real emotions. Even seen as a film about extreme characters, there is no originality in the story or its treatment to make it timeless.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan released in theatres on Tuesday.