“Jab Tak Hai Jaan”… The Endlessness of the Affair

At first, we think it’s empty hero-giri. Samar (Shah Rukh Khan), a classic loner, is not with the others of his bomb-defusing team, one of whom struggles to make sense of the tangle of wires in an explosive device at a Leh marketplace. Samar rides in on his motorbike alone, a little later, and when he gets to work, an onlooker remarks that he will not wear a bomb suit. After all, he hasn’t worn one while defusing close to 100 bombs thus far – a record, which fetches him the title The Man who Cannot Die. More remarks follow that build Samar up, in our eyes, as some sort of outrageous superhero. The onlooker says, “Iski aankhon mein aaj tak maut ka dar nahin dekha,” that he’s never seen in Samar’s eyes the fear of death, and he adds that Samar walks up to explosive devices as if walking into a girlfriend’s arms. It all seems to be little but empty hero-giri, the kind of image-stoking, ego-massaging scenario that every big star writes into his contract.

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But slowly we see that Samar is no reckless hero, that he has a death wish, that he’s really The Man who Wants to Die. For love, naturally. Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan (co-written by Aditya Chopra) is something of a companion piece to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (which the younger Chopra directed). Here too, we’re treated to two flavours of Shah Rukh Khan – one silent and withdrawn, one the exuberant embodiment of life itself. Here too, we have Anushka Sharma, playing a Discovery Channel filmmaker named Akira, torn between these two personas – except that, this time, she falls for the introvert. And here too, the big guy up in the sky plays a pivotal part. This time, though, it’s a different god, one who hangs on a crucifix and whom Samar refers to as Sir Jesus. In other words, we’re watching Christ Ne Bana Di Jodi, which could be the title of the translation of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair.

That’s where this film’s plot comes from – at least, a portion of it. But the changes weaken this adaptation. Instead of saving the crucial revelation for the end, which is how we realise how much love there was, we’re clued in to the fact as it happens. And while the heroine of the novel was a married woman, and therefore had more to lose, Meera (Katrina Kaif) is merely engaged to an Englishman named Roger, whom she calls “a really nice guy.” (Translation: he doesn’t stand a chance.) But most puzzlingly, we’re never clued in to why this Punjabi girl worships at the altar of Jesus. We are all free to choose our own deliverers, of course, but wouldn’t it have helped to show how this bond was forged in the first place? (The novel’s Catholic guilt, on the other hand, is instantly understandable.) All we see is Meera transacting with Sir Jesus: “Give me this, and I’ll give up that.” It sounds like child’s play, not a deep-rooted belief system. And how does Samar – someone who does odd jobs in London before becoming a waiter at a restaurant – join the army and turn into a bomb expert?

It is perhaps a testament to Yash Chopra that he shepherds us past this material without making it look entirely ludicrous. Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a sturdy instruction manual on how to handle melodrama in the classiest possible fashion. None of Chopra’s earlier romances show this hushed restraint, this refusal to punch up the proceedings with thunder and lightning – the film could be unfolding in a cathedral. The matter-of-fact manner in which Samar expresses his love for Meera is mirrored in the matter-of-fact manner in which Akira tells Samar she’s fallen for him. They could be talking about the weather. There’s a steady rhythm to the narrative, without abrupt shifts in tone like the antakshari sequence in Lamhe. Even the heroine’s mandatory taandav is incorporated into a night out at an underground club, and it segues neatly into a song. Younger audiences may snigger at a story about divine retribution and a diary that conveniently reveals the protagonist’s past, but now that Yash Chopra has retired to that great chiffon swath in the heavens, it’s easier to accept these contrivances as the final flourish of a signature style.

At times, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a reminder of the best of Yash Chopra. This is certainly true of the episode involving Rishi and Neetu Kapoor, who worked with Chopra in Kabhi Kabhie, among other films. They’re just wonderful together, and they make you wish this film had told their story. Rishi Kapoor got a lot of praise, this year, for his turn in Agneepath, where he huffed and puffed and pretty much blew the house down, but this interlude here is where we see what a fine, unfussy actor he can be, especially in the moment where he regards Meera with a glass of wine in his hand. He looks like the most content person on earth. As for the heavens, they send down flakes of snow when Samar first sees Meera. That’s Yash Chopra’s cinema for you. In the Greene novel, the heavens dropped a bomb on the couple during a wartime blitz.

That sense of cataclysm is strangely missing here. It’s all very well to be subtle and subdued, but when God worms his way into a love affair between a poor boy and a rich girl, we expect upheavals of Biblical proportions. After a while, the low-key nature of the happenings begin to lull us into a stupor. Somewhere in the second half, something horrible happens to Samar and, suddenly, a new movie (or a Part 2) seems to unfold. Just when we expected the events thus far to cohere and concentrate, the narrative becomes diffuse and the film slows to a crawl. (During the final stretches, you may fear that the film’s title is an indication that it will go on till the life ebbs out of you.) And the end is hugely unsatisfying, a cheat. It does not warrant the sufferings that came before, as it seems to hinge on a simple change of heart. After investing three-plus hours in a love story, we’re left with an abject anticlimax.

Part of the problem is that the leads never really catch fire. Anushka Sharma makes history as the first Yash Raj heroine to refer to a bodily orifice that gets little sunlight, but she has played this part many times before (she’s the tomboy counterpoint to Kaif’s feminine ideal), and in this early stage of her career she comes dangerously close to giving a greatest-hits performance. Still, her portions with Samar are among the film’s best. There’s life in them. Shah Rukh, bearded and guarded, is excellent here, but in his track with Katrina, he gives his own greatest-hits performance, and he looks too old, too tired to be doing what he did with Kajol in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. And what can we say of Kaif? She’s staggeringly ineffective, and she gets countless close-ups to offer us repeated proof of the fact. How can such a heavy role be entrusted to someone so lifeless in front of the camera? She’s like a little girl with an Easy-Bake Oven trying to manufacture loaves for multitudes gathered on a mountaintop. That’s a miracle beyond even Sir Jesus.

Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

23 thoughts on ““Jab Tak Hai Jaan”… The Endlessness of the Affair

  1. I think you’ve been overly kind in your review… I thought it was, in fact, “ludicrous” in every possible sense. Maybe because we’re now used to more urban/realistic romances free of these huge promises and miracles — and I’m not saying that no one can make them work — but I was rolling my eyes through every plot twist. SRK was whatever he always is, Kaif was a big fat nothing, and Anoushka Sharma overplayed most of it but surprisingly for me still came off as the best of the three. Worst of all, Gulzar and Rahman’s work here is completely uninspired.

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  2. … to add to that, I think “The End of the Affair” is great and the 1999 version was ravishing too, with a stunning Julianne Moore. I guess you probably need the right elements to make a plot like this work, which simply doesn’t happen here.

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  3. Loved the closing section of your review-very nicely said (yes, I am a sucker for words :-) Could you elaborate a little more on the phrase “greatest-hits performance” – didn’t quite understand its nuances (or would I need to watch the movie to get it?)

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  4. Excellent review Mr Rangan. Hats off. ” In other words, we’re watching Christ Ne Bana Di Jodi” and “Translation: he doesn’t stand a chance” That was absolutely hilarious, though, i personally thought there was more of a visible similarity with Veer Zaara instead. The ‘being separated for years and not married yet because both agreed never to see each other’ was downright familiar and done so effectively in VZ that, agreeing with the lifeless comment on katrina,it now even makes even Preeti zinta of VZ look like an outstanding performer. For me, the most beautiful aspect about this film is in your words, “None of Chopra’s earlier romances show this hushed restraint, this refusal to punch up the proceedings with thunder and lightning – the film could be unfolding in a cathedral… There’s a steady rhythm to the narrative” and thats the only thing that makes it different and somewhat unique than chopra’s previous works. Note that though its a good obervation, ” The matter-of-fact manner in which Samar expresses his love for Meera is mirrored in the matter-of-fact manner in which Akira tells Samar she’s fallen for him. “, on close inspecion of earlier SRK-YRF combo one will realise that such a ‘mirroring’ is nothing but a well established cliche-a balancing act Adi has successfully replicated in all the past combos as well. But then again unfortunately, the weakest part of the film is also a cliche- an unnecessary subplot – the part 2 part which has plagued earlier combos as well when suddenly seemingly the writer realises there isnt enough oomph in the narrative for a mainstream cinema and thats where it loses …for the lack of better word ‘Jaan’ itself. Your closure is very apt since the very first news i heard an year back which said srk is coming with katrina in a yash chopra directorial, my first reaction was has chopra gone nuts!! as i always saw him as some sort of an emotional performance extractor from established stars and even a blind audience will tell us that katrina is so wrong a casting choice that she is mission impossible 5 for that purpose. My fears came true and she is probably the biggest reason why this film is not even remotely what it should have felt like via its veteran though honest intentions. Brilliant review again.

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  5. “She’s like a little girl with an Easy-Bake Oven trying to manufacture loaves for multitudes gathered on a mountaintop. That’s a miracle beyond even Sir Jesus.” – Zing.

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  6. Muted melodrama seems to be the flavour of the season, doesn’t it? First SOTY, now this. There are dozens of earlier examples as well, come to that. I wonder if it has to do with the perception that, for the film to do well abroad (an ever-growing market), it has to eschew the overblown excess of earlier films and appear more Western, so to speak.

    Apropos your review, it’s interesting that you thought of the Graham Greene connection. Not the first thing that occurs to one when thinking of Yash Chopra. Then again, he did (or Salim Javed did, at any rate) borrow from Joseph Conrad in Kala Paththar.

    The closing paragraph seemed a bit off, as though you wanted a good wisecrack to finish the job, and shoehorned that bit in about easy bakes. It seemed a bit, well, inorganic.

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  7. Sudipta Bhattacharjee: What I meant was taking a bunch of things that work well with the audience and using them endlessly.

    Anurag: No there’s a difference between this and “Veer-Zaara.” The god angle is EXACTLY the same as “The End of the Affair.”

    Ramsu: I thought this was more muted than SOTY, and in a good way. The muting in SOTY felt artificial to me, but here, it felt good. The expansiveness of the canvas (the cinematography was absolutely brilliant) added to this muted feel. Very little overt colour/sound. Even “Rab De” has this feel in its early portions.

    BTW, the Greene connection, as I said above, is there because of how they break up. That’s the exact same thing, that transaction with Jesus. Though, as I said in the review, that’s only the pivot, and the entire story is not the same as Greene’s.

    And yeah, I too am not too thrilled with the closing para, but the option was to struggle with it some more versus just get it out of my system, and I chose the latter.

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  8. ‘Like a little girl with an Easy-Bake Oven trying to manufacture loaves for multitudes gathered on a mountaintop’ – hilarious and at the same time, so apt.

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  9. @Ramsu : Films that do well abroad (UK and U.S) at any rate , tend to be the louder more boisterous and in some cases even regressive. Think of them as Big T.V Serials. Case in point – biggest hit outside India – Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham.

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  10. I thought the direction was not good especially in the Kashmir scenes. When Anushka’s camera broke, she set to leave then everybody is upset. I thought this was forced. Had they shown her connection with armymen a little more then it could have been digestable. And later, when Anushka completes her task and is about to leave then the director tries to show as if she has been here for weeks or months. But i really felt she has been here only for hours (okay, a few days), what’s the big deal if she is leaving. Yash Chopra was much better in Dil to Pagal hai and Veer Zara. Had he adopted total non-linear narration, switching between London and Kashmir at every 10-15 minutes, then Anushka’s stay may have appeared month-long. This way even Challa song could have been shown more meaningfully, a few lines in Kashmir, a few in London. Btw, i thought that dance sequence in night club was very good, about finding yourself. Wonder, why Yash Chopra didn’t bake it fully.

    I also felt that Shahrukh’s change of heart for Anushka was sudden and non-serious. If he can be so angry at Kat’s stand then how can he laugh when Anushka makes mockery of this stand. He should have got irritated at this remembrance. And was one joke all that was needed to build a rapport?

    Rab ne bana di jodi screen writer was again ludicrous here; all that god involvement.

    Rangan sir, do u think Namrata Rao could have done better at editing? When sharukh is in amnesia, he tries to kiss Kat twice, only to get the same reply. Couldn’t one scene have been removed? Or would that have diluted Kat’s confession to the doctor that she can’t handle it now (which i felt was already diluted)? It really felt that she quit in a day. How could Yash Chopra do that?
    And at the end, why couldn’t Kat tell Shahrukh about her latest ‘thought process’ in the court itself? Was that last defusal really needed? Or the director thought the audience is dying to see Kat in white dress (not realizing that the audience is dying out of boredom)? Could the editor interfere here? What difference could there have been if Anushka is releasing her documentary while the couple is hugging in the church? Or was it all because of that wired-ring?

    Btw, Christ ne bana di jodi is really funny, innovative and apt. Just that, i feel it doesnt sound smooth. May be we call it Jesus ne bana di jodi.

    It’s always a pleasure reading your wrtie-up, thanks.

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  11. Why do Meera and Anand pray to Jesus? Obviously because showing them as practising Hindus will be unacceptable to the Pakistanis and the minority audience.anyway foolish Hindus don’t care and can be taken for a ride.

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  12. LOL that was interesting. Or it could also just mean the cliche about a Yash Chopra heroine to compulsorily don white in the film :)

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  13. ALLHAILSRK: I don’t think he died at all. You sat through the film, right? :-)

    Ramit Bajaj: The editor can make or break a film, yes, but he/she is also bound to serve the vision of the director. It’s not as if someone hands over footage entirely to the editor and say, “Now go cut the film.”

    “When sharukh is in amnesia, he tries to kiss Kat twice, only to get the same reply. Couldn’t one scene have been removed?” This sort of thing is more likely a screenplay thing than an editing thing.

    The three most important people in a film are the director, the screenwriter and the editor. But the director usually has final say over what the other two end up doing.

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  14. I don’t think that I agree with the Bardwaj Rangan’s review. It is a biased review. Katrina was very good in the serious role. I find her to be a very sensible actress. Anoushka on the other hand was a big fake in her stereo type acting or rather overacting. The weekest point in the movie was storyline. There were too many dips and peeks in the entire graph of the movie. Shahrukh Khan did good in his serious heart broken role. However, overall I feel there needs to be a revolution in the Bollywood movie making. They are too juvenile and week in the story and the plot. But for sure actors are not to blame for it. They all did and performed as they were expected to. Movie is too long…editor gets the blame for that and Anoushka needs to break the pattern in her childish and useless roles. Being modern and adventurous does not mean you cannot be sensible!!

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  15. ‘At times, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a reminder of the best of Yash Chopra.’

    I would think that this movie is one of the worst movies of Yash Chopra; the fault lies in the weak scripts which seems to have been written by a rather dim-witted person. The insipid chemistry between actors, a lack-luster performance from aging-Sharukh Khan as an twenty something, and a ludicrous plot … it is a sad finale for the man who made Lamhe.

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  16. I couldn’t understand why Katrina’s character wouldn’t marry him, I assumed that she had become a nun. The film seemed like a second rate version of other films I’ve seen, and just dragged on during the second half.

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