Jab Tak Hai Jaan, late director Yash Chopra's swan song, tells the story of a bomb disposal expert so hurt by the heartbreak of his previous relationship that he flirts with death on a daily basis, defusing IEDs with his bare hands and a set of clippers. Extreme maybe, but such is the pain of love…in Bollywood.
Only over three weeks after his unfortunate departure, it is difficult for a journalist to review Yash Chopra’s final film objectively, especially for one of his many ardent fans. However, although JTHJ may present many of the filmmaker’s endearing trademarks – beautiful locations, warm emotions, an evergreen soundtrack – the plotline remains episodic and due to a string of implausible incidents, some of the scenes come off a tad melodramatic.
The worst sin of all comes from the lack of chemistry. Being a Yash Chopra film, this came as quite a surprise, but despite the actors’ best efforts, we never quite understand what it is that draws each of the characters towards one another. Other than being really really ridiculously good-looking.
The ever-dependable Shah Rukh Khan plays Samar Anand, a snowplougher-turned-busker-turned-fishmonger-turned-waiter-turned-bomb disposal expe…. Okay, so if realism is what you’re looking for, you’re so in the wrong cinema - this is no Hurt Locker. When Samar meets soon-to-be-married Meera (Katrina Kaif), through chance encounters at church / whilst busking / whilst waiting on tables, a friendship develops between the two as Samar strikes a deal to teach Meera to sing in Punjabi if Meera can teach him how to properly speak English in return. Obviously, friendship develops into something more, but fate has more in store for the two – a fate that Meera believes she can control by making ‘sir Jesus’ promises she can keep in return. So far so fairytale, but if you’re a sucker for romance without logic, this is definitely a film for you.
The history of the two is narrated to us in flashback via Anushka Sharma’s budding journalist Akira reading Samar’s diary, which he coincidentally leaves in the jacket he lends her. This is one of the major problems of the film: there are just so many coincidences forcibly linking the concurrent plotlines, it draws the audience out of the film’s intense emotional spells into unintended laugh-out-loud moments – a scene with the English police is a great example of this. Painfully funny, it is probably on par with SRK saving New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina in My Name Is Khan.
Anyhow. Having read his diary, Akira almost immediately falls in love with Samar and his old-tradition stance on love and goes about pursuing him to fall for her, through covering him as the subject for her documentary. What is never clear is whether the success of her career is more important to her, or her love for him. With this lack of clarity, when the love triangle between the three leads kicks off, our support for Akira to win Samar’s heart hardly registers.
In truth, there is just too much going on in the film, and though it may have lost a couple of meaningful parables, it could have been stronger with losing the subplot of Akira and focusing more on Samar and Meera, giving them more of an impetus to fall in love with one another in the first place, and exploring the altered dynamics more deeply when their relationship is rekindled.
In addition to this, it is difficult to warm to Akira’s gratingly carefree character - so dedicated to her career in journalism yet listens to her iPod whilst filming, and so committed to winning Samar’s heart yet does little to actually deserve it. Katrina’s superstitious Meera comes across a little more deserving as she attempts to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her love.
Nonetheless, the cinematography and sound is spot on. AR Rahman provides a fantastically stirring acoustic background and London has never been so wonderfully captured for Indian cinema, showing both the familiar shots of London Eye and the Embankment, but also taking us into the rawer ends of the city. Forget plausibility as we venture into a graffiti-clad corner of the capital full of Hispanic attitude – just enjoy it.
Regardless of logic, Jab Tak Hai Jaan will have you leave the cinema with your heart warmed. Maybe a little frustrated, maybe a tad disappointed, but there are still good lessons in what love is, and how much its importance has changed over the generations. The late, great Yash Chopra – they didn’t call him the “King of Romance” for nothing.