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‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’: Has the ‘King of Romance’ lost his throne?

The wait is over. Bollywood’s biggest release of 2012 is a sumptuous if rather soulless love story. It will be a massive hit but has the ‘King of Romance’ Chopra retained or lost his throne?

In present day Ladakh, India stoic Samar (Shah Rukh Khan) defuses a bomb without wearing any protective gear. He then saves a semi-nude Delhi girl Akira (Anushka Sharma) from drowning even though she frequently boasts later on that she is a champion athlete.

In an extended flashback, we learn that Samar has lived in London where he worked as a middle-aged busker and waiter in order to make ends meet.

He befriends and falls in love with a rich British Indian Punjabi Christian (!!!) girl, Meera (Katrina Kaif). She wants to learn to sing in Punjabi; he wants to improve his English. Surprise! They fall in love.

When a bus hits Samar, Meera tells her masculine God that if ‘He’ saves Samar’s life she will follow her dad’s wish of her marrying childhood friend Roger (Brad Pitt – ok, I lie; it’s some non-descript ‘gora’ actor).

Samar survives; Meera keeps her promise. Samar is naturally pissed off and he storms back to India to become ‘the man who cannot die’.

Ten years later, faith (well Akira, who is now inexplicably in love with Samar) conspires to bring Samar and Meera together again.

Fans of Chopra’s trademark ‘chiffon saris set against a Swiss backdrop’ formula may be disappointed in this tepid soapy romance.  That said, the first two London-set hours are Bolly-bliss: Yashji rehashes his usual motifs which have their intended effect.

Khan and Kaif ignite the screen with their good looks and dirty dancing to Oscar winner AR Rahman’s disposable ditties. The best thing about this disappointing soundtrack is that Yashji did not rope out Lata-didi for her obligatory screeching.

We buy into Chopra’s customary corny dialogue (‘be true to yourself’, ‘if you are not happy, you cannot make others happy’, puke!).

If the dialogue is not corny, it is often crude (e.g there is a misjudged reference to a ‘lesbian’ and frequent use of ‘bitch’.)

A preposterous plot development in the last hour will give you ‘retrograde amnesia’ making you forget all the good which has gone before. Unforgivable is the rushed ‘reunite’ ending which fails to invoke the anticipated tears.

Chopra, Bollywood’s most respected director, passed away almost a month before the film’s Diwali release, leaving an incomplete film.  It shows.

The catchy ‘title’ song was not filmed and is tacked on over the end credits which show Yashji at work. Chopra’s penchant for gloss fails this time to detract from the gaping holes in the script and the inconsistent characterisation.

Good Christian girl Meera is willing to sacrifice her love in order to respect her pact with God but she has no such qualms when she shags our ageing hero.

Minor quibbles include Olympic logos in backgrounds in the first London portion which is set a decade earlier, an empty last Charing Cross tube night train and white explosives experts allowing SRK to defuse a bomb at Marylebone station as “this man might just know what he’s talking about”.    

Nevertheless, the film’s universal message is to be applauded especially in ‘Hindu’ India: ‘Stay true to your religious beliefs but not at the expense of your personal happiness.’ Best of all: SRK’s first on-screen liplock with the lucky Kaif.

– Anil Sinanan

Dr Anil Sinanan is a graduate of Oxford University and a specialist in European Law, which he teaches at London Metropolitan University.  He is also an authority on Bollywood and owns a quite vast collection of Bollywood soundtracks dating back several decades – all on Audio Tape – carefully tucked away in the cellar of an idyllic country cottage.  He is currently the Bollywood film critic for Time Out London.

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