It’s a fairy tale, a fantasy and anyone looking for realism or a practical page into love should look elsewhere because Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ) immortalises the quintessential Yash Chopra romance as we remember it from Kabhi Kabhi (1976), Silsila (1981), Chandni (1989), Lamhe (1991), Dil to Pagal Hai (1997) and Veer-Zaara (2004). It transcends life and rises to cloud nine, moves effortlessly across time zones as well as religious or geographical margins. In a Yash Chopra film, love has no bounds, and that holds true for JTHJ too. If you love his genre of cinema, you cannot but walk out of the cinema in love. And if you don’t, well then you don’t.
Needless to say there are flaws in the film — the three-hour duration challenges one’s patience more than the defective portrayal of the Pakistani character Zain Ali Khan (also a common thread in Yash Raj films if you remember Raza Shirazi from Veer-Zaara) — but what makes Yash Chopra’s last ballad so memorable is its strengths. It lies in strong storytelling, a stellar cast, a solid soundtrack, splendid cinematography shot in the UK and a breathtaking Kashmir. What makes it memorable is his unfaltering message that love can conquer all odds.
The fairy tale unwinds the story of Samar Anand (Shah Rukh Khan), who finds true love in the castle of his dreams while waiting tables and singing ballads for tips on the banks of the Thames. Meera (Katrina Kaif) floats into his life like an apparition he is unable to forget. It’s just his luck that she floats right into the church and makes uneasy deals with ‘Sir Jesus’. Pious and chaste albeit having a wild streak, she crosses the line with him and faces the consequences of letting her Lord down. She vows to abstain from Samar’s love in order to keep him safe. Gossip Girl fans will be able to relate the sequence from a similar Blair Waldorf-Chuck Bass episode.
The fantasy continues and the years pull them apart. He leaves London and looking for danger to challenge her God with his life, signs up on the bomb disposal unit in Kashmir. He works without protection and as none of the 98 diffused bombs have harmed him, he is dubbed ‘The Man who Cannot Die’. While watching the film we feel that the number 98 holds significance and this player may be out before he hits a century. Without a doubt, that suspense is pushed to the climax of the film.
Since Yash Chopra romances can never be linear, a second tier (or love triangle) develops with the entry of racy, raunchy Akira (Anoushka Sharma) who follows the soldier to film a documentary for the Discovery Channel. Love is inevitable, despite him being the silent, brooding type and her the 21st century bindaas chick who believes in the ‘instant makeout, instant breakup’ kind of love. If Meera is the soul of this love story then Akira is its lifeline, preventing it from flat-lining in its sketchiest of long-drawn moments. And if Akira is the modern-day lover, then JTHJ reflects that SRK is just as easily adaptable to the future as he is to the past.
A bit about the characters is inevitable. Shah Rukh Khan personifies the Yash Chopra hero; he is lover boy through and through. You may prefer him as the blithering buffoon of a 28-year-old waiter (I didn’t) or you may swoon over the dark and brooding, stare-danger-in-the-face kind of hero but you can’t help falling for him. An actor who carries romance in the same stride as perfect comic timing and can create moments while hanging under a bridge (literally) deserves that kind of kudos. King Khan is the perennial king of romance.
Contrary to general opinion (of people who have watched the film), I felt that Katrina Kaif was perfect in her role too. She is the perfect, pretty little air-headed belle needed for the role. She does appear anglicised enough to pray to Jesus while being born in a Hindu home. And she has the naivety and silliness to wager her love with her lover’s life. The unfortunate thing is that she can’t act. She can’t emote. Which is why she may fit the picture but she doesn’t get the message across. That said not many actresses could have juggled that Step Up — Revolution sequence with church-going chastity.
Akira, played to perfection by an energetic Anoushka Sharma, has to be the film’s best. She helps pick up the pace when things begin to drag somewhere in the middle of the film’s Herculean duration. And she leaves many of us hoping she wins the man at the end.
The 10-minute tribute to Yash Chopra — filming Jab Tak Hai Jaan in London — is the film’s emotional summit. It comes at the end of the 178-minute run of a love triangle that embraces all components of a classic Yash Chopra romance replete with flaws. This may not be his best, but as his last, one can easily over look the shortfalls of Jab Tak Hai Jaan, and focuses on the legacy that it immortalises.
Note: Apparently the censor board cleared out all the kisses (SRK’s first onscreen kiss) which is perplexing since we have seen almost every other actor smooching on the screen in Pakistan.