One so desperately wants to applaud Yash Chopra's swan-song for all that he's given to Hindi cinema down the years. But try as one might, one can't help but feel that Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ) is not quite the epic love ballad that Yashji wanted it to be. Sure, there's the A1 mounting with stunning locales, there's the strong cast and brilliant technical crew with money spent on the production like water but ultimately the weak and (highly) illogical storytelling lets the film down ending in a 179 minutes dreary experience that just seems to go on and on and on and...
The biggest problem with the film, which tells us how true love can defeat even (son of) God, is the central love story of Samar and Meera. This should have been the soul of the film but it simply fails to touch you. It is the weakest element of the film and is plain boring with its main conflict totally unconvincing. The film appears archaic and caught in a time warp in many places and the reason for Meera backing out of the relationship makes her look silly rather than us feeling for her spiritual side and her unwavering faith in 'Sir Jesus', at the church that seems to have only the two of them at all times. In fact, Meera's character is extremely weakly sketched out and even the adventurous (gali ki gundi) side to her is never utilised properly. The fact that Katrina can't act makes things even worse. This is one film where her acting deficiencies are solidly exposed and even that smile can't save her. Her breakdown sequence on the bench is plain embarrassing.
When in doubt, the film simply goes back to older tried-and-tested YRF and Dharma Productions moments. The first half of the film sees a collage of such sequences - the Mother-daughter scene ala DDLJ, or Katrina smoking outside her engagement party and having Shah Rukh tell her she's not happy just the way he told Rani Mukherji so on her wedding day in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and use of the same elements like the Church and the diary just to name some. Admittedly, the early bit of the second half does lift the film, thanks to Anushka Sharma's lively and winning act but then JTHJ totally derails once Shah Rukh reaches London - yes we actually have the old amnesia track rearing up its ugly head from the dead. From then on it is one tedious journey to the end. As it is, the film finds itself on old-wine ground right from its conception and struggles to find that brand new carafe to pour this wine into. So, like the heroines of DDLJ, Dil To Paagal Hai, Veer Zaara, the basic plot here too sees Katrina hitched to a man she doesn't love only to have SRK enter her life and turn her world upside down. It was thus all the more imperative that the love story be treated well as we all know beforehand how it's all going to end but... Even the climax (if one can call it that) is flat and abrupt as if the makers feel it is now time for the film to end after 170 odd minutes, the final emotional wallop thereby missing. Maybe that is why footage of Yashji at work making the film has been used as the end title sequence of the film and while I repeat, one has to salute Yashji for his contribution to Indian cinema, this is obviously poignant but yet too manipulative for us to 'like' the film.
Forget the dramatic writing, the film is also surprisingly low on detailing and logic. In fact, there are far too many logical loopholes that leave you gobsmacked. The 2002 segment has a reference to the London Olympics in the background. Just because SRK likes to dare death to get him, he goes about detonating bombs without any protective suit and the army lets him. The army also coolly allows a 21 year old rookie filmmaker full permission to make a documentary on the detonation squad and Samar, the man who cannot die, in a sensitive and dangerous area. What's more, once he warms to her, he calmly allows her, a civilian, to film him detonating a bomb at extremely close quarters, and yes, you guessed it, she's not wearing a protective suit either. Talking of the bomb diffusing sequences, which totally lack tension, what was the old mobile model doing in 2012?! A thought here - did the Indian Army even see this script and have they seen the film to see their representation? And in the UK, how do the cops simply let Samar diffuse the bomb at the tube station? And there's more. Doctor Sarika tells Anushka and Katrina it is best not to shock Shah Rukh after his amnesia as it could hinder his progress and in practically the next scene she calmly tells him it's no longer 2002, it's 2012 and he's just lost ten years of his life; as if this would not shock him! Ah well... And the documentary that Anushka shows her boss she's made has the shot of SRK riding the bike in Leh as we pan with him taken from the film's opening titles and certainly NOT taken by Anushka.
Katrina Kaif notwithstanding, Shah Rukh and Anushka (naturally) come off best among the performances. Shah Rukh, without doubt, is one of the best ever romantic heroes that Indian cinema has seen. But now his age is showing, and while he still plays the different shades of his role well enough and with full conviction, he obviously comes off better in the 2012 portions as the bitter and hurt man who lost in love. He is comparatively quite restrained and emotes particularly well with his eyes and is able to take you with the film to some extent. Anushka Sharma, it has to be said, is the surprise packet. She shows great spunk and spirit and has some of the best written and practically relevant dialogues in the film. It also helps that her characterisation unlike Katrina's is far more consistent. Her scenes with Shah Rukh are some of the better conceived scenes in the film. Anupam Kher is so-so and vanishes totally from the film after a bit, Sarika is wasted while Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh bring a lot to the table even in their small cameos. That Neetu Singh has aged so gracefully and beautifully, of course, helps!
While not at his best, AR Rahman's songs Challa, Saans and Heer are still well tuned. However, the songs are a little heavy in their poetry and use of Punjabi that makes comprehending their meaning a little difficult for normal audiences but it's still better to have songs with some deep poetic thought in them rather than much of what passes off as lyric writing today. The song picturisations though pleasant enough but lack that wow factor that used to be Yashji's signature, while the background score pretty much makes up most of the sound design. Sharmishtha Roy's production design is lush enough and the film has a certain scale, no doubt ,and like in any Yash Chopra film, the women are lovingly presented with enough thought gone into their costumes, which, needless to say, show enough skin even in cold seasons. The film is shot in some beautiful locations, which are extremely well captured by cinematographer, Anil Mehta. There is the odd editing flourish now and then like the cut to SRK having rescued Anushka after she goes underwater and the screen blanks out rather than have to show him do it but ultimately the length tells on the film. Still, I always say one cannot say the editor needed to trim the film as editors can only work with the material they have been given. And with this they have to give an overall pace and rhythm to the film with all its ups and downs, twists and turns.
All in all, JTHJ is not the ideal farewell for Yashji, just sporadically having traces of his signature. It is more appropriate that we continue to remember him for his older masterpieces instead.