Now who’d have thought that a simple promise made to God would become a deal breaker in a relationship? Yash Chopra, in his latest and last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan, serves a missive halfway through a frothy romance between Samar (Shah Rukh Khan) and Meera (Katrina Kaif). Just as we’re buying into their princess and pauper love story, Meera makes a promise that will separate the two, and frankly drag down a film that’s coasting along smoothly until this point.
Fortunately, despite this difficult-to-swallow conflict, Chopra and his leading man lend Jab Tak Hai Jaan an indelible charm. It’s that charm, coupled with the filmmaker’s trademark freshness, passion, and tenderness, that still keeps you invested in these characters and their star-crossed romance.
As a struggling immigrant in London, our hero Samar makes a living washing cars, waiting tables, and singing Punjabi folk songs on the street. Cupid strikes when he meets Meera, the daughter of a rich NRI businessman, but their romance is thwarted when she makes that fateful promise to Jesus. Samar returns home to India, heartbroken and angry, and joins the army. In ten years, he’s grown into a bomb disposal expert who has successfully defused 98 explosives, and is dubbed “the man who cannot die”. Intrigued by his story, aspiring documentary filmmaker Akira (Anushka Sharma) attaches herself to his unit and travels with them to shoot Samar at work. Predictably, the feisty Akira is drawn to Samar’s brooding intensity, and pretty soon finds herself hopelessly in love.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan has the novelty of modern treatment, seen during Samar and Meera’s courtship where they make out in phone booths or cavort in bed. Which is why then that the regressive and old-fashioned bits stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of a stretch to take in typical tropes like an accident that happens not once, but twice to the same character, a spot of amnesia, and that tired routine of having long, loud exchanges with God. The other quibble you’rre bound to have with Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the indulgent, leisurely storytelling that drags its feet in the second half.
The truth is that whether you agree with, or aren’t a fan of Chopra’s brand of love stories, he conveys them with complete conviction. The two female protagonists in this tale are intentionally different – Meera is the classic, Yash Chopra heroine (albeit a modern one who smokes and curses), while he introduces a new kind through Akira, described best in her own words: “I belong to the instant make out, instant break-up generation.” Katrina Kaif looks ethereally beautiful, but her emotions are limited under the shadow of a shaky, unrealistic character. Anuskha brings a spark to the film and has dialogues that stand out with her punchy, spirited take on them. But Jab Tak Hai Jaan rests with Shah Rukh Khan, and we see a subtly magnetic performance that is both charismatic and intense. The actor looks vibrant and so much younger, delivering a terrific turn as Samar, hopelessly devoted to his love.
I’m going with three out of five for the late Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Despite its many script problems, it’s a consistently watchable film that oozes with feeling and real emotion. A fitting swan song.