Saturday, August 19, 2017

Jab Harry Met Sejal—What You Seek Is Seeking You

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. 
All of Imtiaz Ali's female characters have been memorable, not just because of the way they were, but also, by the kind of decisions they took in their life. Sejal, his latest character, exhibits a few facets of his other female characters, but to me, her personality seemed to lie somewhere between the ebullience of Geet and the consternation of Veera. Geet orders Aditya that he will drop her to her home because she lost the train due to him. Kaha tha na maine, koi doubt mat rakhna, main chhodhungi nahin tumhein? Chhodoge tum mujhe, ghar tak. Here, Sejal forces Harry to help her out, which at some point makes Harry's friend Mayank say that it is the first time a girl is piling on Harry, but he is trying to run away. Geet believes that we get the things that we really want in life. Mujhe to lagta hai ki insaan jo kuch bhi real mein chahta hai na, actual mein, usko life mein vohi milta hai. This is almost similar to Sejal's philosophy towards life. Sejal believes that one can find anything, even God, if we look for it. And, the things we have got in life are probably the ones that we were looking for. Aur jo mila hai shayad vahi dhoondha hoga soch ke dekho. The scenes at the hotel room where Sejal calls Harry inside her room, and their escape after the fight at the club also feel a lot like the conversation between Geet and Aditya at Hotel Decent, and their escape after the police raid. At some other point, Aditya tells Geet that she should be put in a museum because she is unique. Harry feels the same when he calls Sejal a piece of work. Kya hai tu. But the one difference between the two is that Geet has a lot more confidence in her than Sejal.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Veera. She feels suffocated in presence of her family, and experiences a sense of unbridled freedom, ironically, with her kidnapper. Her journey takes her from the parched lands of the desert to the place that is called the heaven on earth, as if mirroring the journey of her inner self. Though Sejal's story is not dark as compared to Veera, there are similar shades between them. Sejal experiences freedom in a strange land to do whatever she wants. Veera gains the confidence to fight the demons of her past and break free from her claustrophobic life. Sejal needs a different kind of confidence; a validation and an assurance that she is not just beautiful but also sexy. Sejal describes Harry as her queen-size bed because she feels comforted by him. She says her fiancé always keeps blaming her, and more than likely, it seems that their relationship has no spark. This whole ring drama provided an escape for Sejal to believe in herself that she also has the sexiness of a woman. As Harry explains in the end, she was never looking for the ring. We often see that she talks to her sister. She tells her sister that she is having her honeymoon before her wedding because afterward, she will also become boring like her. She would never have got the opportunity to feel like this in front of the prying members of her family. She is always comparing herself to other women, such as Harry's ex-girlfriend. She is in a state of trance when Harry tells her that she is sexier than a pole dancer. She herself starts dancing sensually because she thinks she has finally transitioned to a sexy avatar. Remember how Veera breaks into an impromptu dance at the roadside calling herself a hot Tamale; it almost feels like the same for Sejal here. She does not want to be called a porcelain vase, but wants men to look at her in an erotic way. When she signed the indemnity bond, it almost felt like she wanted to have sex with Harry. She cleverly makes Harry follow her to the club. She is the one who asks him that he can touch her on this trip. She is the one who goes and sleeps next to him. She is the one who leads him to the bedroom when she wants him to touch her. She is naïve in many ways. She has always led a protected life, and has no idea about sex. Even her name means pure flowing water; the thought of a cheap man, sadak ka aadmi desiring her makes her feel special that her business suit-wearing Rupen can never do. Sejal is trying to come out of this shadow and the ring only becomes a method to feel this madness. In Rockstar, the cultured Heer also displayed a fascination for cheap thrills, when she and Jordan go to watch a semi-porn film Junglee Jawani. Even though Harry is a womanizer who sleeps with every woman, when it comes to Sejal, he becomes protective of her. He does not have sex with her because he does not want to do the same things he does to other women as he thinks he is a cheap man.
What you seek is seeking you. If Sejal is seeking Harry, he is also seeking her. Harry calls her Jhalli. If Harry was the Challa, she is the Jhalli. For Harry, Sejal is his home. The first time she hugs him, when they are sleeping in the chapel, he gets reminded of his home. He cannot control himself, and starts weeping for the home he left. Nurmahal. He calls himself Raanjha, and says, "Koi ni Raanjhe." His Heer is Sejal, and Heer will take him home. Sejal becomes the reason that he goes back to his pind. The dupatta that he saw in his dreams gets a face in Sejal. When she leaves for Mumbai, she calls herself his ghar (the song is in female voice), again her connection with his home. Khaali hai jo tere bina, main woh ghar hun tera. The one that feels empty because of your absence, I am that home of yours. He is broken, and she will save him. Tum mujhe bacha sakti ho. Harry also displays the vulnerability of Mahabir and the disquietude of Jordan. When Harry cries for his home, he looks like Mahabir weeping inconsolably for his Amma. Harry has dreams where he runs from his house to become a singer. There is a moment when he keeps looking the door before leaving; almost reminiscent of Jordan where he kept standing at the street corner to look at his house after he was thrown out by his family. 
There is the classic dilemma where the existential state of some of Imtiaz Ali's characters is in two different places; somewhere in the middle. Ved is stuck between the heart and the world—dil aur duniya. He has a split personality. He is often found talking to mirrors. Jordan says, "Yahan se bahut door. Galat aur sahi ke paar. Ek maidan hai. Main wahaan milunga tujhe." Away from the world of right and wrong, there is a place, I will meet you there. Jai and Meera are stuck between the past and the present. Meera, after her wedding, calls Jai by stopping her car literally from the middle of nowhere. Here also, Harry and Sejal are in that state. Like Ved, Harry seems stuck in a job that he has to do, and in the job that he wants to do. When he is with the tourists, he wears a tie, but when he has some time-off, he travels in an open-top car, feeling free. Idhar ka hi hoon main, udhar ka raha. Neither does he belong here, nor does he belong there anymore; he is just in the middle, traveling on his own. The relationship that Sejal and Harry have is also somewhere in the middle. She is engaged to someone else, but she says he can treat her as his girlfriend. They sleep together but they don't have any sexual intercourse. They are not in a relationship per se, but behave as if they are in one. It is befitting then Beech Beech Mein that comes right at the mid-point of the film also describes their relationship. Kabhi door door, kabhi paas paas, kabhi door paas ke, beech beech mein. Sometimes far, sometimes near; sometimes, between near and far.
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. 
My favorite scene from the film is the one when Harry and Sejal are by the waves in Portugal. He tells her that in life there should be someone whom we should miss. He, then, starts calling out her name to the waves, and does that Sejal wave action with his hands. He tells her that he will miss her. It is a beautiful moment in the film where a man is calling out to the water where in the meaning of his lover's name is also water. When Aditya sings, he remembers Geet because she brings music to his life, and she becomes his song—geet. When Ved is missing Tara, he looks at the stars—tara, and screams Tara. When Heer goes away from Jordan's life, he becomes a Ranjha to his Heer. The name Janardhan itself is an anagram of Raanjhad. The time that Ali's characters spend together becomes the best time of their lives. Here, Sejal calls it a dream that is too good to be true. Mayank tells Harry that he should forget Sejal. Harry counters him by saying that why should he forget her. Harry never felt as good in his life as he did when he was with Sejal. Isse accha toh life me nahi hua mere saath. So, why should he forget that beautiful time? Even if he does not meet Sejal again, there is the acknowledgment that the time was a special moment in his life.
There is a bit of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in the film, too. A man and a woman meet in Europe, fall in love, and the man travels to India to stop the woman's wedding. Both the films have the same structure. At some other stage, Harry tells Sejal that when the time comes, she will have to go away. Mudkar nahi dekhna hai peeche. Sejal replies that she is not the kind of girl who looks back and runs away with a tour guide. However, when the time comes, she does look back, and this happens twice. Like the palat scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, where Raj thinks Simran will turn back and look at him if she is in love with him. Sejal, even though she had said she will not look back, does so because she is in love.
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 TamashaLink
2. On Agar Tum Saath HoLink
3. On RockstarLink
4. On HighwayLink
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


  1. I watched twice and had been waiting for your post on this ,, now I have to watch it one more time.
    Just one sentence hats off to you.��

  2. Another masterpiece of Pankaj Sachdeva sir.

  3. You and your readers might enjoy the scene-by-scene analysis of JHMS underway on the blog Don't Call it Bollywood. Great insights and respectful discussion, just like your own site! It is refreshing to read an analysis that is so thoughtful.

  4. Your analysis is incomparable to me, sir. I love every bit of your words, your analysis and connection even to a single lyric. Thank you for your delightful explanation of JHMS.

  5. The most romantic movie of SRK.Your elaboration is to the T .I LOVED IT every bit.

  6. What a fantastic analysis once again; this makes me watch JWM/LAK/Rockstar/Highway/Tamasha again; and so far haven't seen JHMS but now will watch it for sure.

  7. I have noted that even if its similar kind of film Imtiaz ali do things like no director in bollywood pay attention to the opening credits like rockstar from the quote of rumi's film love aajkal amazing switching of screenplay (where perfectly use of music and camera and angle..remember kyu koi pass hai moment?)...tamasha has the second best opening credit sequence after luck by chance where chali kahani song played and it switches so well from story to story)...and in JHMS where Srk was sitting in train and he tried to capture the inside thoughts of Harry and safar song!!!

    1. Excellent point, Karnik. His opening credits have always been special. Tamasha's were awesome. Here also Safar was nicely done :)

  8. What a movie! i am in awww as i have watched it now since 2 days and after a long wait as it did look cliched from the trailers and negetive splurj of criticism it has received. I loved the subtle emotions that are portrayed and it just captivates the mind. Shahrukh is a stunner as always but rarely gets his stage that he deserves. His magic in Swadesh that is unforgettable is recreated in this movie. Love!

    1. Hi Utpala,
      Yes, the movie is interesting in parts. I liked it a lot as well.

  9. Another great post, Pankaj. You and the readers of this blog might be interested in this essay that I edited out of Imtiaz Ali’s films.

    (Long time follower, first time commenter.)

    1. Hi Narendra,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. And, great to read your comment.
      The essay that you have made is lovely. I loved it. I have shared it with many others as well.
      Hope to be in touch.


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