An ex-army man (Shah Rukh Khan), leading a double life in London, must choose between his wife and his muse.
Taking on directorial duties for the first time since 2004’s Veer-Zaara, Bollywood giant Yash Chopra lives up to his reputation as 'India’s King of Romantic Cinema’ with Jab Tak Hai Jaan. A grand cinematic work boasting all the pros and cons of the genre, this unashamedly cornball star-vehicle for three of India’s hottest talents is a fitting swansong for the late filmmaker, who passed away on October 21 at the age of 80. The film honours his memory with a moving end-credit montage that profiles the man at work.
a grand cinematic work boasting all the pros and cons of the genre
Chopra’s favourite leading man, Shah Rukh Khan, plays Samar Anand, an emotionally scarred bomb-disposal officer in the Indian army. A short prologue sets up the pre-intermission plotting: spunky cadet journalist Akira (Anushka Sharma) is rescued from drowning by the dark, moody Samar in an isolated location. Discovering a journal the officer mistakenly left behind, Akira reads it and transports the film’s setting back to London 2002. Here, Samar is an effervescent young man (a clear struggle at times for the 48-year-old Khan) who busks between waiting gigs and shovelling snow at a local church. His life becomes intertwined with stunning society girl Meera (Katrina Kaif) and a deep bond is formed.
This entire sequence, clocking in at over 90 mins, is filled with bouncy tunes and sharp choreography (a rave-like dockside party pulsates with energy), but there’s next to no substantial plotting or subtext. The age-old poor boy/rich girl archetypes are played out to their inevitable conclusion, spinning from soaring highs to tragic lows in a single edit and padded out with countryside montages. As the house lights go up for the traditional intermission, audiences could not be blamed for thinking Jab Tak Hai Jaan had concluded.
Post-break, we time-jump ahead to 2012: Akira has scored her first big gig filming Samar and his outfit diffusing bombs. Sharma is a vivacious screen presence but her flighty giddiness in an active war zone is dumb. (She nearly kills herself and several others when she fails to see a landmine, though the professional soldiers are lenient after seeing her in tight shorts.) Called back to London to okay Akira’s footage, Samar is hit by a van (for the second time) and develops amnesia. (A strange thing just happened – I got as bored typing this nonsense at about the same time as I got bored watching it; the ending of the film is interminable.)
Chopra fans will not hear complaints that the great producer-director had become mired in a rut, or that his films are rote melodramas reliant on boisterous music (here, a typically string-heavy work from the omnipresent AR Rahman) and over-active camerawork. One could argue that it’s their very vivid cinematic nature that makes them particularly noteworthy, even when the dialogue (at times, awful) and plotting (rarely based in logical realism) can test one’s patience.
Perhaps most interestingly, there is a strong base in traditional Indian cinema values in Chopra’s film, particularly with regard to female characters. Kaif’s Meera sacrifices true love in the name of God and family, actions that honour both her and a history of similar romantic martyrs in Indian film; Sharma’s Akira is bold, driven by ambition and confident in her sexuality, yet she comes around to the old ways of thinking by film’s end. That Khan’s Samar would emerge with his core beliefs and integrity intact is a given.