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Imtiaz Ali
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Movie Review
Jab Harry Met Sejal:A Script Analysis


In this series, Chiranjib Sahoo will analyse the script of latest releases. Here's his take on 'Jab Harry Met Sejal'.

IDEA

On the last day of her trip to Europe, Sejal finds that she has lost her engagement ring. With the help of the tour guide Harry, she revisits all the same places looking for the ornament, but finds true love instead.

When you have a one-liner like this, you know it’s not going to be any ordinary journey. It will be life altering, the characters will have major upheavals, they will relook at their lives as they knew it, and in the process, make hard decisions. Overall, such a premise holds promise of an uplifting experience for the characters and the audience alike. But it is entirely up to the writer to make it happen. So, does it happen? Well let’s find out how the plot has been sketched.

PLOT

The movie begins with Harry showing sights to an Indian contingent. He tries to impress them with his knowledge and sense of humor, but clearly his heart is not in his job. Move to the next scene and flashes of memories from his past are thrown in. It’s a good way to begin the screenplay. An element of mystery is readily introduced, preparing the audience to await the revelation.

A couple of scenes later, we are introduced to the second protagonist, Sejal. She has skipped her flight to India and being a stranger in Europe, her only acquaintance is Harry, her tour guide. Harry is reluctant to help her out with her quest of finding out the ring. He offers logical alternatives but Sejal isn’t logical when it comes to matters of the heart. She pesters him and finally Harry gives in. Now this is an immediate setup. No time wasted and we are straight into the plot.

We have two characters who are completely incompatible and we have a situation where both of them have to be together. The genre is already known to us. It’s going to be a romance on the go and we are all upbeat to know how it unfolds. But hold your horses. The excitement hasn’t yet begun.

After a few customary scenes of going to places to find the metaphorical ring, you get a sense that the real journey, the journey of two souls finally merging into one, is about to begin. But what you get is a series of speed breakers. The journey begins and fizzles, begins and fizzles, and before you can locate when exactly the characters fell in love, the movie is over. So yes, the plot fails and fails big time. And if we could analyze the main cause of this debacle, then look no further than Sejal. She is an unexplored character. What she wants, though underlined at the outset, becomes foggy as the scenes are fleshed out with emotional dissonance.

Often in movies like this where two strangers meet and fall in love by the end of their journey, it is generally achieved through their honest, heart-to-heart conversations. Take the popular Before… trilogy or the plot-oriented Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist or the recent La La Land. People talk about their dreams, failures, rejections, hopes, fears, aspirations, regrets… they reveal themselves layer by layer. But what we get to see in JHMS is a series of unending squabbles that in no way throw light on the souls of the two characters. Yet, they fall in love. How? I don’t know.

You may get some sense of Harry; he is a man with battered dreams. He has no direction, no expectations. But what about Sejal? I am still racking my brains. It does no good to suggest that she is falling in love with Harry by taking her close-ups and playing a beautiful score in the background to accentuate her inner state if in the very next moment she dismisses the director’s suggestion of love.

The first half is still good because it kind of gives you hope that in the second half we will know more of Sejal. But it becomes clear that Mr. Ali has nothing more to say than to give us ephemeral moments of clueless love.

The second half gets cluttered with songs. And I say cluttered because they do nothing to move the plot ahead. It’s the journey across Europe that progresses, not the story. A few comical and irrelevant scenes are scattered to make it “plot-oriented” but, really, the spark is gone. Even the “twist” at the end couldn’t twist the film’s disappointing mood.

CHARACTERS

There is Harry and then there is Sejal. Two utterly clueless characters but Harry is comprehensible, Sejal is not.

Sejal shows a spectrum of behavior that in the context of the story seems totally out of place. The motivation to find the ring is clear, but why she falls in love with Harry, that’s a million-dollar question.

Sejal affirms herself as a loyal fiancée. In her own words, she isn’t the type of girl who would flee with a tour guide. And yet she calls off her marriage (trust me, this is no spoiler). This is no small decision. This is big, really big. The conflict within her must be enormous, but tough luck, that’s not at all considered in the screenplay.

Was Sejal a sort of suppressed character who could only be truly herself with a stranger and not her fiancé? To understand this, we needed a glimpse of their relationship. That could have helped us make some sense of her idiosyncrasies with Harry. That’s how we understood Geet in Jab We Met; she was perfectly fleshed out.

Speaking of Harry, he is a man with a mysterious past and a perplexed present. He is unsure of himself and with Sejal around, he feels, to quote him – “I think you can save me.” A very profound statement; an indicator of a really torturous secret, but tough luck again, it’s revelation is only suggestive and not profound. That’s where it loses vital brownie points. You can still feel his angst even if you don’t know it but sadly that doesn’t help in rooting for him either. To sum it up, the cluelessness of both the characters robs the viewers of any empathy and involvement with the film.

SCREENPLAY

If there is anything good about the screenplay, it’s the setup. But sadly that’s too little. After peppering up with enjoyable scenes in the beginning, the latter portions lose all relevance. The scenes then become repetitive and to a large extent old-fashioned.

I say old-fashioned because they are typical of the earlier romantic movies. Harry and Sejal do not have heart-to-heart conversations. Instead, they talk (argue) or open up emotionally when their lives are at stake. You guessed it right. The goons enter and threaten to straighten them up but Harry is the hero and he won’t let anyone touch the heroine. So he beats them up, not by his power but by his wits (after all, Mr. Ali isn’t a violent person) and saves the day for both of them.

Now this technique is trite. And even if it was employed, there was really no illumination of the character’s personalities.

The major portion of the screenplay, the conflict, is paper-thin. As mentioned earlier, it’s the tour across Europe that progresses, not the story or the plot. Mr. Ali keeps using the flashes of Harry’s memories to keep the audience thinking, but when it’s revealed, it’s not dramatically satisfying at all. However, the twist that marks the end of this act is subjectively impactful.

The third act has really nothing to shock or surprise you. It’s stretched for reasons best known to the writer. The scenes are just as repetitive as the earlier ones and though the climax was predictable, Shah Rukh Khan seals it with a kiss. So, I guess, that’s some consolation.

The dialogs are pieces of philosophy and poetry in certain sections but they seem to be the words of the writer and not the characters. Again, that’s another reason why you really don’t get to understand the characters. In the absence of a well-crafted plot, the movie relied heavily upon its dialogs. The characters needed to speak freely; they were supposed to act as per the demands of the situation, not according to the opinions of the writer. In the quest to make an ambitious film, it’s the story that had to kick the bucket. A forgettable piece from Mr. Ali.



   Chiranjib Sahoo

Chiranjib is a trained screenwriter from Whistling Woods International, Mumbai. He can be contacted at csahoo449@gmail.com.

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