Jab Harry Met Sejal ★★★

-i often find it hard, with mid career name over the title directors, to figure out what trends in their work are central, driving passions or habit or traps or at most disastrous branding. here imtiaz breaks out of his mold of largely adolescent drama, romantic love as solipsistic or even vampiric (see the dead lovers in highway and rockstar).

this is a film about adults, with mild despairs not corresponding to articulated traumas - harry's 15 lost years aren't explained and are obviously much more integral to his anomie than the flashbacks of his abandoned home, and sejal's actual happiness with her family and her not so bad fiance doesn't mean she's not entitled to an existential crisis. their life trajectories might be opposite but in some way they meet and each corrects the other, even the third act dark night of soul worry seems mild compared to kareena's lonely sojourn in jab we met.

that said this is his weakest movie in some time. whether he is incapable of making a strong film without his go to obsessions or whether he is capable of moving past them only within the confines of a commercial entertainer is open to be seen...

-even imtiaz's most flawed films (and all of his films are flawed in some ways; if anything he is a filmmaker who can withstand flaws that would doom entire careers) are beautifully shaped. jab we met or highway or tamasha can be quickly diagrammed on a bar napkin and are stronger for it, often using bifurcated structures or (in case of rockstar) quickly ramping narrative diffusion to very pointed effects. many people were furious that the version of tamasha promised in the trailers turned into the bleak secornd half, but the abrasive tonal shift is arguably the whole film, the feeling of a vacation euphoria turned into the stultifying reality of home. without it the film wouldn't exist.

in contrast jhms is almost shapeless. the beginning and ending (until the pandering epilogue, which feels like what people who don't watch much yash raj think their films are still like) almost purposefully formed around an amorphous center; you know a film is in trouble when many scenes could be transplanted from pre-interval to post-interval without sacrificing coherency. songs seem planted at random.

anushka's sejal suffers the most - her overall character arc is beautiful, she is in some ways the most elegantly drawn female character in imtiaz's career, but because she has to go from uninterested in harry to flirtatious within the first minute the film makes her stall in the plot, subjected to increasingly ludicrous behavior and past the interval scenes that make me wonder more about the director's view of women than anything since that nargis fakhri wants to see porn scene in rockstar. anuskha and srk are excellent - you can feel their feet on the ground. often the quietest scenes are their best, moments of small contact, two people sleeping on the ground, srk washing his feet in an airport bathroom. the pride of setting up a party for your friends and pulling it off.

-disappointed to see imtiaz return to more conventional decoupage with this one but maybe it had to happen. the production of this seemed strange if not tumultuous; the film we have is very different from the one initially described, perhaps not for the better (for one thing, that wasn't supposed to be a love story at all). it's hard to see the negative reactions to this being so vicious, but that's the way it is for indian auteurist film since the deserved failure of bombay velvet.

there aren't many name over the title auteur directors who have devoted their careers to this kind of romantic film, or films about romance, connected to genre but not quite genre at all; except for a few hong kong holdouts and some art house types nobody really comes close, even on an occasional basis.

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