Yash Chopra, the legendary Indian film producer and director has been described as arguably India’s most successful director of romantic films. Returning to the helm in 2012, to direct Jab Tak Hai Jaan, marked Chopra’s first directorial effort since 2004 when he directed Veer-Zaara.
Principal photography began on January 9th, 2012 in Mumbai before switching to London for 35 days of filming on February 21st, 2012. While the film had its international premiere on November 13th, 2012, Yash Chopra unfortunately passed away on October 21st.
Starring three of India’s most bankable stars – Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Anushka Sharma, Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ) is a story of deep passion, of the exuberance of youth, and of devotion to God. Swirl these three ingredients around in a stew that also includes the tension and drama of a broken heart and filter through all of this through an Indian Army Major whose job is to defuse IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) and you’ve got the makings of a classic Yash Chopra epic romance.
Only it doesn’t quite happen.
Sure, having beautiful people dance and love in all of London’s most beautiful settings, crossed with a character straight out of The Hurt Locker sounds good. But the while the film is beautiful to watch, the story itself suffers, at least in the second half of the film, from a poor script, and an actress, who while she is a beauty, has limited acting range and a nearly inexpressive face.
At the outset, in the present time, Indian Army Major Samar Anand (Shahrukh Khan) arrives in a Ladakh marketplace on his motorcycle to defuse a bomb. He works fearlessly and wears no protective gear at all. With nerves of steel, and seemingly completely unafraid of death, Anand is a hero to his men. After the bomb has been defused – Anand gets on his motorcycle and drives off to a place of solitude to decompress and unwind.
But on this one occasion, we find that the next morning, Anand is not alone at his lakeside encampment. Also present nearby is an enterprising young woman, Akira Rai (Anushka Sharma), a young intern working for The Discovery Channel. She desires to be a documentary film maker. We meet her as she stands on a small rocky island in mid-lake. She is about to dive into the lake. She’s bone dry. After diving into the lake, she screams in shock from the lake’s surface cold waters and begins to flounder.
She will be saved from drowning by Anand. Rather than sticking around, he gives her his jacket, then boards his bike and drives off. We then see that Akira had recorded the rescue with a camcorder on a tripod that she had set in place beforehand. So clearly all of this was pre-arranged by her.
But Anand had left his journal in his jacket pocket, and Akira begins to read it. We will then flash backward to see visually what Akira had been reading. It is 10 years earlier (2002). Samar is in London in the UK. He is an immigrant and working hard to stay afloat. He sweeps and shovels snow at a church, he’s a fish monger. he will also work as a waiter, and besides that, he floats around London with a guitar and songs – working for small change in public parks, bridges, squares, train stations, and other places bound to have lots of people on foot.
He’s delightfully charming, and this is one of the reasons that SRK is a huge international film star. We are treated to his energy, and his style, and we too are charmed. But it is not just Shahrukh – the film visits many of London’s most attractive places. Check out Shahrukh as Samar in London’s St. Pancras Station below. And below that, he’s crossing Westminster Bridge.
In the course of his busking, Samar will cross paths with Meera (played by Katrina Kaif). They will eventually meet and talk. Meera prays in a church asking God to help her meet a good-looking Anglo and not a boring Indian man. But they meet and talk, and strike a deal – Samar will teach her to play guitar and sing a Punjabi song. She offers to pay, but Samar will not take money for teaching. The deal is that rather than paying him, Meera will teach him to speak English.
We go all over London with these two – it is beyond beautiful to watch as they fall in love. Never mind that this is one of the most often told stories in romance films – the poor boy/rich girl story.They make it work.
Meera and Samar fall in love,
and before Meera can tell her father about Samar, something happens. Meera prays, and promises God and if he God grants her wish, as penance, Meera promises to never see Samar again. I was a bit mystified by this – as it didn’t seem to be a good deal at all for Meera. But this is a romance – so you have to expect there will be some major obstacles. Anyway, Samar and Meera finally meet (he goes to the church where he knows she prays). There’s a confrontation. Like me, Samar can’t understand it – and he leaves in anger.
Not only does he leave Meera, but he leaves almost everything he has, and returns to India – flash forward to the present, and now we know why Samar disarms bombs. He says he has died a little each day since Meera, and it wouldn’t be so bad if he died all at once (in the act of defusing a bomb) rather than continue this way.
So in the Indian Army, he is known as the man who defies death each day in his work. He’s also called The Man Who Cannot Die.
Of course since we are now back in the present Akira wants to do a film documentary about Samar.
She gets herself embedded into his bomb squad, and travels around with them.
Akira also wants more than just to make a documentary about Samar. She wants him to fall in love with her.
But she’s a bit of self-absorbed beauty. Since men have always chased after her, she believes in herself, and in almost every case, she will throw caution and intelligent behavior aside in favor of impulsiveness. Truly, she’s a wild child embodied in the form of a beautiful woman.
Her video is finished, but her bosses in London won’t simply just air her video without some sort of vetting. They want to see Samar in person, in London. Of course he says no.
But he does show up in London, and there, the story just leaves the rails of common sense, probability, and intelligence. They completely lose their way. No spoilers from me – but for us – suspending disbelief is a vast understatement.
Shahrukh Khan as Samar: he’s great in this role. He has to play a 28-year-old and a 38-year-old while in real life he is actually 48. But that doesn’t matter. He is just so appealing – be it as a carefree struggling immigrant in London, or as a morose, composed, inwardly turned man, who even 10 years later has chosen to defuse bombs rather than to move on with his life.
Katrina Kaif as Meera: she’s gorgeous, and has a fabulous figure. Chopra has given her a long dance solo that will amaze you. But Kaif doesn’t light any fires within me. She’s just so hard to read. Her face is excellent but she’s more of a mask than a living, breathing woman. I think we project emotions for her rather than receiving visual emotional signals from her.
Anushka Sharma as Akira: she’s a beauty, and she’s upbeat, energetic, frenetic, supremely confident, and passionate. But as Akira, she’s all about herself, and all about having fun. She will get the memo about becoming an adult, but it will take a while in JTHJ. Still, you can’t take your eyes off her.
I loved the look of the film – it was just beautifully shot and edited. But they let the story run off the tracks in the post intermission part. The film also runs just under three hours. But it is a Chopra romance which is a good thing. This film may not be his best, or even close to being near the excellence we have come to expect from him, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. On a different note, it is his last film.
See it for the great cinematography, the iconic and beautiful London landmarks, and see it for Khan, Kaif, and Sharma. Just don’t expect the story to be on a par with anything else you’ll see in the film. Three point zero out of five. The 3 Disc DVD is available at Amazon.com. You can add it to your DVD queue at Netflix, but they don’t have an available date just yet.
The HD Trailer: