Tiding over the logical incongruity of an ageing superstar playing a twenty-something lover boy who matches steps with a vivacious actress half his age might take some doing. But once you manage to get that mental holdup out the way, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Yash Chopra’s last film, is a perfectly fitting finale to an eventful life and career.
The screenplay by Aditya Chopra and Devika Bhagat is by no means flawless but, for the most part, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is watchable, if somewhat emotionally manipulative.
Beautifully shot in easy-on-the-eye parts of London and Ladakh, the film, in the best traditions of a Yash Chopra romance, sees the world primarily through a tried-and-tested “love is life” aperture. The view that it provides is generally likable, if not always completely persuasive.
The mushy moments at the heart of the love story might feel a tad pulpy at times. ButJab Tak Hai Jaan leaves a soothing afterglow.
You have seen it all before, notably in Dil To Pagal Hai and Veer-Zaara. Yet, Jab Tak Hai Jaan exudes a surprising degree of freshness. It stems from the quirky new-age twists that the screenplay throws into the mix.
One half of the film is a variation on the legend of Mirabai – the heroine, a prim and propah London girl, is caught between her unshakable faith in Jesus Christ (who she believes will never let her down) and her temporal love for a charming street musician who sweeps her off her feet and tempts her to “cross the line”.
A substantial part of the second half presents another face of Eve in the form of a gutsy Delhi girl who is proud to belong to the “instant make out, instant break-up” generation.
The feel-good romantic ménage a trois plays out in two divergent settings ten years apart. The plot twists are simple and often rather facile, especially when the film hurtles towards its rather predictable denouement.
That apart, Jab Tak Hai Jaan resorts to old-school tropes like road accidents, a head injury, a protracted case of retrograde amnesia and a neurologist who recommends some playacting to help the victim regain normalcy.
But when it comes to emotional layering, which was always Yash Chopra’s forte as a storyteller, the director is in complete control. The film has enough simple moments of tenderness to offset the several not-so convincing heavy-handed twists.
The opening sequence – set in present-day Leh – introduces the audience to Major Samar Anand of the Indian army’s bomb disposal squad at work at work. He knows no fear. He defuses IEDs without donning a bomb suit. He is known as “the man who cannot die”.
Through the pages of his diary, the film cuts to London and goes back in time. Samar Anand is a struggling Indian immigrant. He makes a living by strumming a guitar and singing folksy Punjabi numbers at tourist spots and doing odd jobs as a snow-cleaner outside a church, a sales boy in a fish market and a waiter in a restaurant.
He falls in love with Meera Thapar (Katrina Kaif), daughter of a wealthy NRI businessman (Anupam Kher). Circumstances contrive to keep them apart although they develop the deepest feelings for each other.
A heartbroken Samar leaves for India and joins the army. In Kashmir valley, the musician-turned-soldier meets another pretty girl Akira Rai (Anushka Sharma), an aspiring documentary filmmaker on an assignment to record the bomb expert and his team at work.
But the London lass still haunts Samar and he is caught between the woman who inspired his music and the bubbly young girl who livens up things around the brooding loner.
Akira confesses to being “totally, completely, madly” in love with Samar, but the latter spurns her advances.
Though the focus of Jab Tak Hai Jaan is on the male protagonist, the two women in his life aren’t mere mannequins. They are full-on Yash Chopra heroines, blessed with both grace and intelligence, besides the ability to speak their minds and hold on to their beliefs.
Therefore, despite the lovey-dovey nothingness that drives the plot, Jab Tak Hai Jaan has more substance than most romantic films that come out of Bollywood.
Shahrukh oozes charm and chutzpah and ensures the character remains in the realms of believability.
Katrina plays the grounded Meera with assurance. In the moments when she is egged on by Samar to let her hair down – especially in the sequence with the underground dancers – the actress lets herself go and makes an impression.
But it is to Anushka Sharma that Jab Tak Hai Jaan really belongs. Turning in an infectiously energetic performance, she breathes life into the somewhat flaccid second half.
Surprisingly, one aspect of Jab Tak Hai Jaan that isn’t quite up to scratch is the musical score. The AR Rahman-Gulzar combo that never fails to yield a cracker isn’t quite in its elements here.
The love ditties sound nice while they play on the screen, but they do not stay with you after the hurly-burly is done.
Watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan not just for the obvious sentimental reason but for the fact that it shows, for one last time, what Bollywood will miss now that the undisputed master of romantic sagas is no more.