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Jab Harry Met Sejal: Imtiaz Ali’s film should rightly have been called Jab Sejal Met Dude

 

You get a similar feeling about Jab Harry Met Sejal, except you feel it about Shah Rukh Khan.

Now, of course, this is a pretty weird feeling to have about a ‘SRK movie’. Imtiaz Ali has done everything he can to stop you from feeling this. SRK’s Harry — despite having no discernible problem in life but being attracted so much to women that it scares (only) him — is supposed to be deep. You’re told again and again, mostly by Harry himself, that he’s a bad guy. He’s weary. He’s got trauma. One flashback early in the movie leads you to believe there’s some mysterious backstory from India that’s left Harry the tour guide scarred in Europe. Turns out nope, there isn’t.

Anushka Sharma and Shah Ruh Khan in Jab Harry Met Sejal. Image via Facebook

Because despite all the drama that the film tries to create around Harry, he’s fine. Nothing wrong with him. No trauma. No backstory. He’s just a dude, single in his forties. And that’s okay.

Jab Harry Met Sejal almost belonged to Sejal (Anushka Sharma). The movie is about her, after all – about the ring she lost and the things that happen to her as she goes from city to European city looking for it. Sejal moves the plot along: in fact, you often get the feeling that she was supposed to be the plot. Sharma’s deliberate Gujju accent may have been a bit much sometimes, but she makes up for it with her spectacular comic timing. Sejal is a lawyer, plays a role in her family’s business, is clear and decisive about what she wants, kicks the shit out of numerous bad guys and breaks off her own marriage. Harry is mostly just…there, a consequence more than a character, along for the ride Ali is taking us all on.

This movie should have been called Jab Sejal Met Dude.

In the run-up to this movie there was some talk of Imtiaz Ali’s repetitiveness: that most of his films feature people who go off on a journey in which they find themselves, and find love. This is true of Jab Sejal Met Dude too. It is practically the only thing that happens: the pair travel to different cities in search of a lost ring, get into really mild adventures in each city, find the ring and get together. You get the feeling that travel didn’t really need to be so central to the plot but was blackmailed into it, since everything travel was supposed to invoke could have been done without having gone on a journey at all. They could have found similar adventures just chasing each other around Mumbai – getting into fights in clubs, meeting spurned ex lovers, taking train rides, fighting thugs, throwing wedding parties for friends and singing impromptu songs.

Somebody somewhere convinced Imtiaz Ali early on that a journey is an integral part of films, so he feels the need to make all his movies fit that formula. The idea of a journey in Ali’s movies always leads to one person finding themselves. And barring few exceptions, that one person is usually a boy — from Jab We Met to Tamasha to Jab Sejal Met Dude.

Somebody somewhere convinced Imtiaz Ali early on that a journey is an integral part of films, so he feels the need to make all his movies fit that formula. The idea of a journey in Ali’s movies always leads to one person finding themselves. And barring few exceptions, that one person is usually a boy — from Jab We Met to Tamasha to Jab Sejal Met Dude.

Even more repetitive than the theme of travel are Ali’s precious male leads and all the bhaav they get from him. You get the feeling that men in Imtiaz Ali’s movies are a lot like Gayatri Jayaraman’s ‘urban millennial poor’ — whether it’s Shahid Kapoor’s man-child who couldn’t deal with his mother’s romantic relationship in Jab We Met, or Ranbir Kapoor whose biggest problem in Tamasha was that he couldn’t figure out if he’s a fun or boring guy to hang out with, or Kapoor in Rockstar where he can’t write songs until he feels sad about something, and now SRK’s spectacularly unremarkable Harry convincing himself he’s the blandest devil incarnate. Ali’s men break into sobs over their bad dating records and boring at-home personalities, probably to add some ‘darkness’ that’s supposed to add glamour to their souls in the filmmaker’s formula. I feel like telling the men in his movies to suck it up and go do their homework when they complain about how sad they are.

It isn’t like Ali doesn’t know how to give characters real problems. Part of the reason why Alia Bhatt’s Veera in Highway gets so chilled out about being kidnapped is that she’s dealing with the trauma of being sexually abused by her uncle as a child. Deepika Padukone’s Veronica in Cocktail is so traumatised by her breakup with Saif Ali Khan that she turns to excessive drinking and gets into a terrible road accident. Will someone please ask Ali, why do women need to go through so much trauma while the men get to just worry about themselves?

I found it strange that before the release of Jab Sejal Met Dude, Anushka Sharma claimed in an interview that her character was very superficial and had no depth. The trailer made it seem like she had plenty going on for her. But now, having watched the movie, I think I understand what she meant. It isn’t that Sejal has no depth, but that her role doesn’t allow her to show it no matter how much the plot depends on her. How can Sejal unfold all of her own complexity and depth when so much space is being taken up by SRK unnecessarily crying over his tour-guide status and imagined evilness towards women?

Ali won’t give us the satisfaction of a truly evil SRK, and he won’t give us the satisfaction of a truly realised Anushka. He just wants to hit the road again with a Dude.

 

It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

One such character was the wonderfully-nuanced cameo by SayaniGupta, who played Hina Siddiqui, a young Muslim woman driven to despair.  It’s a small but pivotal and deeply impactful role, so much so that Sayani was lauded for her performance by some of the veterans from the industry. Twitterati in large numbers also poured their love for her.

Gupta has so far been doing a balancing act between commercial and art cinema. She has received critical acclaim for her offbeat and distinctive roles in films like her debut Margarita With A Straw (played the role of Kalki’s love interest)and most recently Fan (as Shah Rukh Khan’s secretary), however, Sayani doesn’t take compliments or criticism seriously.

“I have never sat down to ponder over what others have to say because ultimately you know what you have done. Piyush Mishra (theatre and film actor, NSD alumni) called me few days back when I was shooting for Jagga Jasoos, and said while referring to Jolly LLB 2, ‘I didn’t know you acted so well.’  Lot of people are complimenting me on social media as well. Somebody told me that they went to watch the film thrice because of me. There are lot of people who said I made them feel for the part and I made them cry,” says Sayani.

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She continues, “My performance really moved my mother, and she is far too detached about the industry and not at all excited about the film world or what I am doing. She is not in favour of me acting and it was quite a struggle to convince her when I went to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India). Little by little, she is coming to terms with it but she would have rather seen me as an IAS officer or in a regular job.”

“We are from middle class family and they didn’t want their only daughter to get into films. Obviously there are certain perceptions about the film industry. My close friends never say nice things, they are always critiquing my work, but finally they felt that I was brilliant in Jolly LLB 2.”

Strangely enough, Sayani has been getting offers for horror movies for last few years and she, too, fails to understand the reason for it. “Maybe they think I am a Bengali, I have big eyes…” she laughs.

While Sayani so far has rejected two offers post Jolly LLB 2 (as  she is “choosy”, “instinctive”, “and not ready for it”), she is certainly excited about her first international project, The Hungry, which is an Indo-British production starring Naseeruddin Shah and Tisca Chopra. The film, for which the actors were very selectively chosen, is directed by debutante filmmaker Bornila Chatterjee, who is an alumnus from New York’s Tisch School of the Arts. The Hungry is an adaptation of William Shakespeare tragedy Titus Androcinus, which is believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593.

“This year marks the 400th death anniversary of Shakespeare. His stories could seem a tad hyper-real for this era, but this film is a realistic take. The script won at a collaborative cine-lab,” says Sayani, further adding, “The film has a bunch of deadly actors. We shot for it in Delhi and Agra. The ambience on set was stimulating and since we all got along so well, it turned out to be a great shoot.”

Recently, Sayani earned an honourable mention for the Best Actress award for her short film, Leeches, at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles  (IFFLA). In just two years of her career, she’s also bagged one of the lead roles opposite Naseeruddin Shah with The Hungry. The actress considers it her privilege to act alongside ‘Naseer’, who was her teacher at the FTII.

“Naseer was very excited about his role after decades. He plays my father. He has been my teacher and lot of my understanding about acting and the craft is because of him. It was almost like reassurance of sorts when he would come to take our class. I adore him as a human being. He is fun to be around. He has always taught us how acting is all about reacting. He is a keen listener, which adds to the performance,” she says, adding:

“There are two of the coolest men I have worked with – Shah Rukh Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. They are sensitive, they are aware, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are normal dudes.”

So did Sayani take any advice from the two “coolest” men?

“Some of the things Naseer told me is: ‘Learn your lines till you bump into a furniture. Know your lines backwards. Study the script well. Be relaxed and don’t take things too seriously. Make it fun and light.’ On the other hand, there’s much to learn just by the way Shah Rukh carries himself. He is the most technically sound actor, I feel. His understanding, the cleanliness with which he does everything, his craft is solid. He doesn’t show it. He is persistently hardworking and also the humility. He doesn’t take his stardom seriously,” she reveals.

Two of Sayani’s “friends” from the industry are the erstwhile directors – Rajkumar Hirani and Vishal Bhardwaj. She may not have offers from them yet but she certainly takes their advice. “I don’t talk work with them. Hirani often tells me that I should give people time after they have seen my film. I did audition for a part in Rangoon but Vishal told me that it won’t be good enough for me. I would never ask them to cast me because that could hamper our relationship. Whenever they want to cast me, they will.”

Sayani is currently shooting for Ranbir Kapoor-Katrina Kaif- starrer Jagga Jasoos which has been in the making for a long time. “When I signed the film I was playing the only narrator in the film. I had a separate track of my own. But since there is no script — Dada (Director Anurag Basu) doesn’t work with scripts, he writes as he goes along — my role has changed. I will know what my part is only after I see the film. Also, it is a very difficult film when it comes to format. It is musical, it’s a children’s film, and it is not a normal narrative. I play a 14-year-old girl and that is all I know (laughs),” she says.

I was called an ‘interfering b*tch’ for having an opinion: Kangana Ranaut

Vidya Balan has been applauded for doing movies centered around women like Kahaani and The Dirty Picture, and she feels that there is no harm in calling then ‘women-centric’ films.

“It’s been the norm; every film is ‘male-centric’. The identity of the character is missing, vague. When we see film with woman in the lead, it is a woman-centric film. I think there is no harm in pronouncing films as women-centric. At this point of time we need it, may be after sometime we won’t need it,” Vidya said on the sidelines of MAMI Mumbai International Film Festival.

Actress Kangana Ranaut, however, thinks it is not about male or female-centric films, it is about characters. “I think it is not about male or female centric films but about the character one plays on screen. The characters are remembered,” she said.

kangana2

The two actresses were speaking at a session on ‘Women in Films’ at MAMI festival, where veteran actress Shabana Azmi and director Kiran Rao were also present.

Complimenting Vidya and Kangana’s work, Shabana said, “There were lot of women-centric films with Nutan, Meena Kumari, Mala Sinha, then there came a phase where women were shown as a forgiving wife, sacrificing sister, loving mother, it was all stereotypical.”

“It is a happy time as women are playing protagonist in films,” she said.

Shabana added she fails to understand the disparity in remuneration for male and female actors in the Hindi film industry.

“I am unable to understand why gender comes in a profession. I got good money in mainstream films and for small budget films, I got money according to the budget of the film.”

Vidya, 37, feels women undermine themselves, but she is content with her pay scale.

“I think we undervalue ourselves. People often in some or the other way tell us we are not valuable. I have done small budget films and I get the price accordingly. Apart from that whatever I ask for I have got that. I am happy with the growth,” she said.

On the other hand, Kangana revealed how studios pay the actresses. “I think for the last 10 years I was struggling to get a break, today I am happy where I am. I ask what I feel is right. We get five per cent of what our male counterparts get,” she said.

“There are studios that offer us big films saying it is an opportunity for us, but they don’t pay us enough. It is our right to get paid,” the 28-year-old Queen star.

On being criticised for giving inputs in dialogues and screenplay, she said, “As an actress when I started contributing to my films, writing dialogues and screenplays, I thought people would find me useful. I was shocked to see that it was seen as something which is not accepted no matter how much they are benefiting from it,” she said.

“My contribution is seen as interference. But when a male actor, who is this maverick, larger than life person, does the same thing it is not considered that way. I was called an interfering b***h,” she said.

On the occasion, Vidya also expressed her displeasure over people talking about her looks and weight.

“I think age is just a number. I entered the industry at the age of 26 when actresses either settle down or think of settling down in their life. I would be happy to play any kind of role provided it is exciting. I don’t appreciate when people talk about my look, like saying that I have put on weight and all,” she said.