Imtiaz Ali's Jab Harry Met Sejal takes its name from his own film Jab We Met and Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally. Starring Shah Rukh Khan as Harry/Harinder Singh Nehra, and Anushka Sharma as Sejal Zaveri, the film's plot revolves around a ring. Harry is an immigrant tour guide in Europe, while Sejal is a tourist who loses her engagement ring. Harry and Sejal try to find Sejal's ring by revisiting the places where Sejal could have lost the ring. As it happens, the cupid strikes and the two fall in love.
In Tamasha, when Ved is traveling to Japan, the lady at the traffic signal gives back Ved's ring to him and she tells him that the ring will fulfill all his desires. This particular scene with a ring gets a film of its own in Jab Harry Met Sejal. The film's entire premise is based on an engagement ring. Sejal loses her ring while traveling in Europe. She wants Harry to help her find the ring. The film's tag line is a quote by Rumi that says, "What you seek is seeking you." The thing that you are searching for is searching for you. The particular quote implies a deeper meaning for the relationship of Sejal and Harry. There is an early point in the film where Sejal sits in Harry's car at the airport and he asks Sejal, "Aapko pata hai na challa kahan hai?" Challa is a ring, but it also means something that is pointing to Harry. Challa comes from the word Jhalla, which is used to describe a young man, who is a little crazy, or who just roams around freely. In Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Samar used to sing Challa which was a song about a wanderer—Challa gali gali rulda phire. Harry is the Challa here, which also perfectly describes him. He is a wanderer. He is a tour guide who never goes home. He sleeps at the train stations. Sejal is seeking this Challa and the ring is only a symbol for Harry.
In Tamasha, Tara, who remains the most innately flawless character of Imtiaz Ali, was the one who helped Ved understand his true self. He was not the corporate product manager made for giving PowerPoint presentations but he is the one who talks to the mountains and drinks water from the river like an animal. Tara helps him see and embrace that Ved. Tu koi aur hai. In Jab Harry Met Sejal, we see something similar but there is some kind of a mutual interdependence where both Harry and Sejal help each other to see their own self differently. Harry is a stranger to himself. Rozana khud se begaana. The time that Sejal and Harry spend together brings out their different self. At some other point, when Sejal and Harry are together in the bed, she tells him, "Ho sakta hai tum apna bhi kuch aur image lekar chal raho, jo galat hai." Sejal also mentions that Harry has a split personality. In the end, Mayank tells him that he did not know there was a man like this in Harry. Sejal replies that even she did not know that there was a girl like this in her. It is as if they both become Tara to each other.
I remember reading a report from last year that said that the character in Ali's next film is inspired by the character of Raju, played by Dev Anand, in Vijay Anand's Guide. In that film, Raju guides Rosie away from her loveless marriage and gives her the zest to live so that she can become a dancer. Now, when the movie has finally released, it can be observed that Sejal, like Rosie, needs that validation and the confidence, but in return, Sejal also gives something back to Harry. In Tamasha, too, Ved played Dev Anand in Corsica when he and Tara were playfully acting and speaking in filmy dialogues. His name Ved was also the reverse of Dev.
There is a lot of other self-referencing in Jab Harry Met Sejal, not just in the characters, but in other tropes, too. The film's title itself is inspired from Jab We Met. In the song Phurr, Harry wears a jacket that has decent written on it; almost a throwback to Hotel Decent in Jab We Met. There are the other familiar tropes, such as Rumi quotes, the theme of journey, and the songs related to journey—Safar, Safarnama, Yeh Dooriyaan. Imtiaz Ali has a penchant for dances on the street—Yaara Rab, Yeh Ishq Hai, Chor Bazaari, Hawa Hawa, Matargashti, and now, Phurr. In Matargashti, Ved and Tara walk down the stairs; in Radha, Harry and Sejal do something similar. Nagada Nagada and Butterfly give the same Punjab vibes, where Geet and Sejal almost look identical. That feeling of elation where a man thinks that his lover is present with him is visible in Tum Se Hi and Hawayein.
The hug is another repeating motif in all Imtiaz Ali's films. Veera gives a hug to Mahabir after she narrates him the story of her sexual abuse. Heer asks Jordan to give her a tight hug. Meera and Jai decide to not meet any longer with one last hug and one last kiss because the tum vaali feeling, aadat will never go away if they are together. The relation of Geet and Aditya starts when Geet goes and hugs him at Ratlam. The hug plays a crucial part in the film’s climax where she sends a message to Anshuman that she is no longer in love with him. A devastating Tara gives a tight hug to Ved and does not want to leave him in Agar Tum Saath Ho. Here, also, Harry asks Sejal for a hug. Like in Love Aaj Kal, Harry also Sejal to go back because aadat ho jayegi. The women in Ali's films are always either married or engaged to someone else, and later, they change their decision; this holds true in this film, too. Meera annuls her wedding, and waits that Jai will come some day. Sejal, too, cancels her wedding hoping that Harry shows up at on wedding day. Imtiaz Ali's characters often look themselves in the mirror as if they are having conversations with themselves. There is also the repeating motif of feeling a sense of freedom and exhilaration with arms wide open; often when traveling in a vehicle.
In Jab We Met, Geet loses a train which plays a significant part in her life decisions. Ek ajeeb sa darr lag raha tha, bechaini si, jaise kuch galat ho raha hai, jaise koi train chhut rahi hai. In Tamasha, Tara loses her passport, a document that defines one's identity. This loss of identity, literally and figuratively, becomes the story of Tara and Ved. In Rockstar, Heer loses her health when she is away from Jordan. In Jab Harry Met Sejal, Sejal loses her ring, and she is trying to find that challa. This seemingly innocuous loss of varied things becomes a symbol for something larger in Ali's scheme of things.
Of course, the above would lead to the obvious critique that Imtiaz Ali is repeating the same themes in his films. I don't mind this, but I am speaking with my bias for him. The themes might be similar; however, each film of his has felt different in its treatment to me. But I did feel there are many things in Jab Harry Met Sejal that could have been better. For instance, the first half seems stretched on the chase after the fight at the club, and it leads to quite a few unfunny moments. Also, some of the scenes that I liked are shot in the dark of the night. I would have loved to see them in the bright light of the day. Additionally, the whole plot of illegal immigrants seemed unnecessary. The second half has some Ali-esque moments—beautifully messy. The songs in the second half almost gave the feel of a musical. Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma are actually good, and give great performances. Just watch Shah Rukh in the scene where he pretends to be Sejal's fiancé during Hawayein sequence. That is a classic Shah Rukh moment. For Anushka, she is always great, but I have felt that there is often a studied consciousness in her which gives the impression that she is acting, but I did not feel that in this film. It takes some time to get used to her accent but she is wonderful. Watch the scene where she poses for a picture on Mayank's wedding. She tilts her face slightly and tries to pose in a way so that her picture comes out perfectly. It feels so natural that this is exactly what the character Sejal would do.
I watched this film twice in as many days, and I liked it more the second time, which has always been the case where I have liked Imtiaz Ali's films more the second time. It slowly becomes clear to me as to what he is trying to say. Given the reaction to the film, it revalidates my belief that I have a terrible choice of liking films. And, I am foolishly sentimental, why is why I feel I can never write a piece with as much objectivity as this.
There is a scene in Tamasha where Tara drinks a cup of coffee while Ved plays football with the kids. She is basking in the sunlight and is at complete peace with herself. Sejal and Harry drink a glass of wine after Mayank's wedding and it feels as if they have never been happier in their lives. Someday, I wonder if lesser mortals like I can experience this moment of absolute bliss. I don't have an answer but till then I will be waiting to see other such moments in Imtiaz Ali's future projects.
P.S.—Is it the first time a major star, such as Shah Rukh, actually spoke the word sanitary napkin in a film?
Other Reading:-1. On Tamasha—Link
2. On Agar Tum Saath Ho—Link
3. On Rockstar—Link
4. On Highway—Link
5. On Tara—Link
Dialogue of the Day:
"Koi toh hona chahiye yaad karne ko."
—Harry, Jab Harry Met Sejal
"Jabse gaanv se main shehar hua, itna kadva ho gaya ki zehar hua."
—Irshad Kaamil, Jab Harry Met Sejal