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'Jab Tak Hai Jaan': Chopra's allegorical adieu

November 17, 2012


Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012)

Starring Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma

Jab Tak Hai Jaan
"I'm old-fashioned," the hero says to the much-younger girl who loves him. "A generation too late."

"I'll come back to you in another life," he promises her, "as a modern lover, like you."

He once was the modern lover. He, being Shahrukh Khan, and his character, being Raj, the worldly, brazen, guitar-strumming, leather-jacket-wearing Romantic Hero popularized by Khan in his 1995 hit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The many iterations of Raj he has played through the years has cemented Khan as the King of Romance.

The 47-year-old actor has openly acknowledged that his loverboy days are rapidly drawing to a close and he's shied away from romantic roles in recent years—but the girls still adore him. A packed audience of all ages—and not all South Asian—in a downtown Chicago theater on the opening night of Jab Tak Hai Jaan screamed and clapped wildly when Khan first appeared on the screen.

In Jab Tak Hai Jaan, he seduces once again with a Raj that Khan has fine-tuned to perfection. This Raj is deeper, more mature, more passionate, torn, and intense than ever before. Who could resist? Not even a member of the "instant makeout, instant breakup" generation, as described by the film's character, Akira, a 21-year-old aspiring documentary filmmaker who falls hard for him. This old-fashioned lover is a revelation to her.

But theirs is not the main love story here. Rather, he is paired with a heroine as old-fashioned as himself—a classic Chopra heroine. Khan shares the title King of Romance with filmmaker Yash Chopra. (Khan made four films with Chopra and three more with Chopra's son and cinematic heir, Aditya.) The 80-year-old legend had announced that Jab Tak Hai Jaan would be his last as a director and he died three weeks before the film's release. With its title, which roughly translates to "as long as I breath this life," the film marks the passing of a great and his particular brand of love stories that has defined Bollywood for decades.

It's not Chopra's best, but being his last makes it better than it would have been. In Hindi cinema, the lines between actor and character, director and film are often deliberately blurred, and the reality of Chopra's death and the cumulative of his life's work infuse Jab Tak Hai Jaan with even more melancholy and nostalgia than is prompted by the story—which Chopra certainly intended. It's impossible to watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan and not painfully consider that another movie like it may never be made.

All the Chopra hallmarks are there: snow, Christian churches, gorgeous locations in India and abroad (Kashmir and London), a heroine dressed in white. White is also the traditional color worn by widows, and here she is Chopra's figurative widow, a romantic character type who has lost her protector and champion.

This heroine, named Meera, played beautifully by Katrina Kaif, is a rich Indian girl in London, engaged to a gorgeous British banker whom she doesn't love. Khan's character is not called Raj this time (although he does refer to himself as such in one scene), but Samar, and he is a poor, hardworking waiter/fish monger/street musician. Samar makes the repressed Meera come alive. But he can't get her to shake all of her emotional hangups. She is Catholic and has serious guilt issues and feelings of deep unworthiness related to her mother's abandonment of her. She makes juvenile deals with Jesus and uses them as an excuse to avoid the happiness she believes she doesn't deserve. However, the deep-seated reasons for her divine bargains are never articulated and she isn't forced to confront them, so there's no catalyst for her epiphany, which makes for a big anti-climax.

While Samar and Meera are apart, Samar returns to India, joins the military, and becomes a bomb disposal expert—fearless because he doesn't care if he dies. That's where the effervescent, carefree Akira (played by Anushka Sharma), comes in, stumbling on his diary and deciding to make a documentary about him. Akira—along with some implausible plot twists and trite devices—facilitates Samar's return to London and to Meera's life.

The score and soundtrack by A.R. Rahman is stunning, and the wonderfully choreographed musical numbers convey powerful passion and emotional transformation. This is a first-time pairing of Khan and Kaif and they are hot together. Khan breaks his career-long no-kissing rule. (When he finally decides to plant one, it's on the ex-girlfriend of his nemesis Salman Khan, no less.) After two decades of unconsummated tension from Khan… have you ever heard an audience gasp at a kiss? That, folks, is effect.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan is rated Must See.

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