My second Bollywood film and first at the cinema, Jab Tak Hai Jaan holds special significance for the Indian film industry as its famed Director Yash Chopra who won four Filmfare Best Director awards during his career, died just a couple of weeks before the film’s premier on 21st October 2012. There are dedications to him both before and after the film which show a vibrant and seemingly healthy 80 year old Director behind the scenes, crafting both a film and friendships. His final film is a romantic drama about a poor Indian living in London called Samar (Shahrukh Kahn) who falls in love with a rich girl called Meera (Katrina Kaif). The story is told over ten years and at times feels as though it is in real time but is told through a young wannabe Journalist called Akira (Anushka Sharma) who comes across a journal detailing a fascinating story of love and heartbreak. The journal belongs to Samar, now ten years older and a commander in the Indian Army Bomb Disposal unit. Akira takes an interest Samar’s story as well as the man himself.
I am in no way an expert on Bollywood films and as I’ve mentioned this is just my second after the fantastic My Name is Khan, also staring Shahrukh Kahn. As we live in a city with a large Indian population and have the opportunity to see Bollywood films on the big screen we decided to make the most of our opportunity and see the odd one that takes our fancy. As it turned out tonight we were the only non-Asians in the audience and got a couple of perplexed looks. What I also noticed is that although the whole audience laughed at a lot of the same moments, occasionally my girlfriend and I would laugh at a line but no one else would and visa versa. Some of the cultural references were going over our heads but on the whole the humour was broad and charming.
The plot itself is painted with very broad strokes but is a nice reworking of the oft told Princess and pauper story. There are a couple of nice twists and call backs and on the whole the story was enjoyable and satisfying. Two of the three central characters are also great fun to watch but one was a bit of a drag. The plot itself also lagged at times. In the first half this was often immediately livened up by a song and dance number but in the second, more dramatic half there was very little in the way of singing or dancing to liven the film up. At a shade under three hours the film is at least forty minutes too long and with adverts, trailers and an interval you will be in the cinema for close to four hours. Even though the film plods along nicely, four hours is energy sapping even at the best of times. The story is wide reaching and complex at times so a longer than usual runtime is probably required but I’m sure at least twenty minutes could have been shaved somewhere. Partly due to the long runtime and slower placed second half both myself and much of the audience was getting restless towards the end and I heard a lot of sighing and seat shifting.
I’ve mentioned very briefly how much I enjoyed the singing and dancing but it forms a major part of the first half. The songs are great fun and the dancing is brilliant. It feels a bit westernised at times, perhaps as a result of its English setting but still has all the great dance off style Bollywood dancing which I love. The dancing is enormous fun to watch although I was a bit worried in one particular dance that Katrina Kaif’s movements might cause her breasts to fly off. Despite not being familiar with Indian films, the Music India channel is set to our favourites on our TV. I love Indian music. The soundtrack is from Oscar winning composer A.R. Rahman, the man behind my favourite soundtrack of recent years, Slumdog Millionaire. The songs pop along and are still whirling around my head but the background score was less to my liking. It felt a little obvious and tugged on the audiences emotions too much. It wasn’t clever or subtle which was a shame. Generally speaking though, I really enjoyed the music.
Acting wise the film is very mixed. There is some awful acting from the Western cast who luckily have only a few lines between them. I don’t know where Chopra found the actors but it’s a real let down. Katrina Kaif is also disappointing but I thought Anushka Sharma’s youthful exuberance was a great match for Shahrukh Khan’s wounded older man. Khan himself is excellent. Because of his standing and presence you get the feeling that you are witnessing something special when he is on screen. It’s no wonder he is known as The King of Bollywood, there is something about him that means you can’t take your eyes off his performance and he dwarfs the other actors. It seems my girlfriend couldn’t take her eyes off him either, but for other reasons. Not that I’m complaining. My affinity for Indian women was increased even more with the appearance of Kaif and Sharma, looking stunning and in various states of undress.
Despite my enjoyment of the story, soundtrack, dancing and Khan’s performance, there was a lot that I didn’t like. One of the biggest problems I had was with the setting - London. The film suffers from the same problem as a lot of Hollywood films in that it seemed to want a shot of Big Ben or The Gherkin or some other landmark in every shot. Khan always needed to walk across Westminster Bridge, no matter where he was going and the whole thing felt like a travel advert. Another problem with the setting is that parts of the story set in 2002 had Olympic logos and even the countdown clock in the background as the film was obviously shot in 2011 or 2012. It might be a silly thing to pick up on but it suspends disbelief. Another problem late on was a preposterous scene aboard a London train. I can’t give too much away but if Khan did what he did in real life and with the Met’s shameful racial profiling, he’d have been shot. It is also true that the story is something that’s been seen a thousand times and I have to go back to the uneven acting again. At times it is shocking.
Overall Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a nice romantic tale which some great dance sequences and interesting if slightly tired plot. There are moments of extreme fun and some sweet and tender scenes and it delivers a nice message about the endurance of love but it is too long and sags at times. Despite my reservations though I’d recommend it and my girlfriend loved it, but be prepared to have a late night.