Yash Chopra - a name that any one with the slightest interest in Hindi films will have come across a few times in their lives. If the multiplicity of Hindi cinema can be unfairly categorised as a genre called "Bollywood", then Yash Chopra is to this genre what Hitchcock is to mystery, Scorsese is to gangster and Luhrmann is to grandeur.
Having directed his first film in 1959 (Dhool ka Phool) and his last in 2012 (Jab Tak Hai Jaan), Yash Chopra has at least one film to his credit in each of the last seven decades. That may be a feat in itself, but what is far more noteworthy is that he moved with the times, changed his style over and over again, and never once compromised on quality. It used to be said that while other directors would film in India and pretend it was Europe, Chopra would film in Switzerland and pretend it was Kashmir. Despite his tremendous success with social dramas like Waqt (1965), Deewar (1975), Trishul (1978) and Kaala Patthar (1979), he is best known for his romantic films. He defined 'real love' for more than one generation - and it is Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Silsila (1981), Chandni (1989) and Lamhe (1991) that people instantly associate him with. He created a world of beautiful poetry, memorable music, idyllic walks in the park and snow-capped mountains; he gave us graceful women in chiffon saris, who are as bold as they are beautiful and dashing men, who can be just as rakish as they are ethical - smart people all of them, with a taste for the finer things, be it lifestyle or literature. When you bought tickets to watch a Yash Chopra film, you knew you were entering a different world - conservative and yet unconventional, dripping with class but grounded in reality - and you would not be disappointed.
At age 65, he directed his 'youngest' film, Dil to Pagal Hai (1997) and raised the bar even higher for what would be considered hip and cool in Bollywood. Then nothing for seven years and out came Veer-Zaara in 2004, one of the very few films of his career that I did not like. It was old-fashioned, boring and strangely out of step with the times. Had the king finally lost his touch? I had to wait another eight years to see this trailer (anyone who has visited my blog before will know that I do not post pictures or embed videos, so this is a special concession for the grandest of directors):
And then we heard the news - only a month after his 80th birthday, and less than a month before the release of his latest film, Yash Chopra passed away. Such is his legacy that he will never be forgotten. But it is with a heavy heart that I review his last film - one I hoped would be his crowning glory, but is instead one of the weakest contributions to his vault of exceptional films.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the story of Samar Anand (Shah Rukh Khan) and his undying love for Meera (Katrina Kaif), a girl he meets in London, while he busks, waits tables, sells fish and runs errands to make a living. Meera is the daughter of a rich man and is ostensibly strait-laced, but Samar recognises the playful imp within her and that is who he falls in love with. Complications arise when Meera's unwavering faith in God, and her insistence on bartering with Him, leads to her ending her relationship with Samar. Heart-broken and dejected, he returns to India and, with a death-wish, joins the bomb disposal unit of the Indian Army. While posted in Ladakh, he meets young and bubbly Akira (Anushka Sharma), who falls head over heels in love with him, a feeling that Samar is no longer capable of reciprocating to anyone but Meera. Hence, we get a love triangle, one that does not have an easy solution - and that is what the film is about.
If my description of the plot sounds flat and uninteresting, please remember to place some of the blame on Aditya Chopra, who is responsible for the story and dialogue, and part-responsible for the screenplay. It is shocking to imagine that he is the man behind one of the most successful and entertaining Hindi films of all time - Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995). For this film, he has simply put together snatches of Hurt Locker (2008), Kabhi Kabhie and Trishul, and fleshed up the basic triangular structure of Veer-Zaara.
Anushka Sharma plays the quintessential go-getter, a wonderfully 'alive' daredevil - and a rather annoying character most of the time. She looks, for lack of a better word, hot, dressed in the shortest of shorts and cotton vests, but she has gone a bit too large in her acting. Katrina Kaif, who had just started showing some promise in her acting, has delivered one of her most placid performances in recent times. Her facial muscles seem incapable of showing subtle expressions, and in this film, she is not even trying. But, she too, looks beautiful (though a bit chubby around the waist) and so all is well in the world. Shah Rukh Khan, on the other hand, is all charm and emotion, and at 46, he pulls off the mid-thirties look with aplomb. Unfortunately, in half of the film, he is meant to be in his mid-twenties and roughly three decades of smoking and drinking have left too many tell-tale marks on his face that undermine all his efforts at looking young. Still, it's SRK, the King of Bollywood, and his acting more than makes up for his appearance. With just his eyes, he conveys a thousand emotions. My only problem with his performance was the fact that after 20 years of vowing never to kiss his heroines onscreen, his cringe-worthy attempts in this film were a big mistake - resulting in many an awkward moment between him and Katrina. His scenes with Anushka were much better handled and they have far more chemistry than he and Katrina ever achieve.
There are way too many flaws in the execution of this film. The story is archaic and the twists are straight from the 80s. The scenes with the army almost always had a couple of soldiers carrying their rifles in the most comic manner. The scenes with Anushka carrying a video camera were even worse. Had a lesser director been at the helm, this would have been forgivable, but when Yash Chopra blunders, who do we turn to? This is a weak film in parts, and simply awful in others (yes, I am referring to the London bomb disposal scene and the unnecessary cameo-infested sequence at the vineyard). The audience keeps waiting for it to lift, to go somewhere - but it never does.
The music is good in general - but considering it's AR Rahman we are talking about, it is fairly mediocre. The choreography is excellent though - and Katrina is mind-blowing in the salsa-capoeira-street-inspired dance sequence.
There is one thing in the film that I can not fault at all - and that is the cinematography. Anil Mehta is pretty much a genius with the camera, but in a seriously flawed film, he has delivered shot after impeccable shot. His work deserves a review of its own! Also, the location scout(s) should get a special mention. London has never been this well-explored in a Hindi film before and it was gratifying to see not only the typical tourist spots, but also the areas that only Londoners go to.
All in all, it absolutely breaks my heart to give my final verdict on this film: it is sub-standard. But the colours, the actors, the style and of course the fact that it's a Yash Chopra film, his last at that, will ensure that Jab Tak Hai Jaan will be seen by all Bollywood fans and will be generally enjoyed, and possibly praised.
Hell, even I may go and watch it again!