The Thackeray brothers will be pleased to know that the scourge of the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants has breached the hallowed walls of Imtiaz Ali and Red Chili Entertainment’s cinema. There were many cinematic tropes I expected from the Shah Rukh Khan-Anushka Sharma starrer, Jab Harry Met Sejal. But nothing prepared me for the best bit. A commentary on the life of illegal immigrants abroad and the vagaries of life as a farmer in the subcontinent.
Ali’s films ever since Jab We Met follow a certain arc. Boy meets girl, boy and girl love each other, boy is unable to express his emotions because he wasn’t loved as a child or was dropped on his head as a child, boy and girl cannot be together, girl leaves, boy follows her, or girl then stalks boy, then girl and boy miraculously conquer all obstacles and end up together. Because Ali has his finger on the pulse of the “youths," as they call them in the Delhi, the films look lovely, they’re full of fun lingo, he casts mega stars and if we are lucky – as in this case – we get to go on a Cox & Kings holiday across the world.
In this film, Ali has cast SRK, who has aged well, much like fine whisky – give or a take a popping vein or two – and bubbly Anushka. This is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge Redux. Again. Only this time SRK is a world-weary rakish tour guide who happens to be Punjabi and Anushka is a rich Gujarati girl from Mumbai who is on this mini European adventure with her entire khandaan and gets engaged to her fiancée on the trip and loses her wedding ring while still on it. She then stays back in whichever European country it was, it’s all a blur after the 20th country they show, and makes SRK accompany her to each of the cities they visited from Frankfurt to Prague to Amsterdam to Portugal, looking for her ring.
In the meantime, as is every actress’ wont, she falls in love with SRK and he, despite his seeming reluctance to love her back, succumbs to her charms. But never tells her so. Because if he did so, that would mean the film would end in an hour, and we can’t have that, because they have to clock in at least 20 countries in almost 3 hours. She then finds the missing ring and returns from whence she came, only to have SRK follow her to India. You can watch the film to know if it’s a happy ending or not.
There are bad songs, good songs, fabulous locations and SRK looking extremely romantic and a few moments which can tug at your heartstrings – or not. The woman sitting next to me cried copiously, laughed uproariously and clapped her hands loudly on cue. It was extremely unnerving and at one point I felt she was having a mini breakdown when SRK was looking wistfully into the yonder. Obviously, Ali knows his audience.
But the best part of the film was when SRK and Anushka meet a villain called Gas in Portugal. The villain is played by Chandan Roy Sanyal who deserves a hat-tip. As does Imtiaz Ali, who has done the impossible by imagining a villainous Bengali man. Sanyal is a fake jewellery kingpin and has a gang of Bengalis working with him. Like all good Bengali men, Sanyal and his gang are easily scared and are at heart, extremely nice people. There’s a small commentary on how they’ve had to illegally immigrate to Portugal because the floods ruined their farmlands back home and as farmers they had no option but to find alternate sources of income. It’s heartwarming to think that Imtiaz Ali and his scriptwriters know what our famers go through in Bengal and even in Bangladesh. Or that they know of the droves of Bangladesh immigrants who people Europe. I remember walking through Rome and meeting Bangladeshi after Bangladeshi selling wares on the street. Speaking fluent Italian. I stepped out of the Vatican to buy a burger from a food truck, whose cook-owner was Bangladeshi. That the Bangladeshi immigrant has finally made his debut in Hindi commercial cinema makes me very proud.
And that Chandan Roy Sanyal is a stellar actor is made obvious once again in how he steals the show in the 10 minutes he’s on screen. Also, another round of applause for finally having a Bengali character and his sidekicks pronounce Bengali words absolutely spot-on in a Hindi film. If only Sanyal had helped Anushka practice her fake Gujarati-Hindi accent, which ruins every romantic moment in this film.
Ali delivers what you expect of him – a popcorn romance that doesn’t make you believe in love but does make you want to travel to Europe. It also reminds you of DDLJ and will make you marvel at SRK’s longevity as a romantic hero and his evolution as someone who can act when given a chance. The silver lining in this film is exactly that, that SRK is allowed to act and not told to ham. The platinum lining is the Bangaldeshi immigrant villain. The bronze lining is Anushka Sharma’s thepla-tinged acting. But hey, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do to remain relevant in commercial cinema in India. So if she needs to take on a Sejal-character to line her wallet and ensure people tune into the cinema that she brings our way under her own banner, more power to her. Because for every Jab Harry Met Sejal, you know Sharma will give you a Phillauri and an NH 10. Which is more than I can say for Ali and SRK.