It’s almost irrelevant to guess at the beginning of the film that a simple promise made to God can prove to be a deal breaker in a relationship. Yash Chopra, in his latest and last directorial venture, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, a communiqué halfway through a sudsy romance between Samar (Shah Rukh Khan) and Meera (Katrina Kaif). Just as we fall in into their princess and pauper love story, Meera makes a promise that will separate the two, and frankly drag down a film that’s breezing along smoothly until this point.
Nevertheless, despite this difficult-to-swallow skirmish, Chopra and his leading man lend Jab Tak Hai Jaan an indelible charm. It’s that charm, coupled with the filmmaker’s trademark freshness, passion, and tenderness, that still keeps you invested in these characters and their star-crossed romance.
Samar, a struggling émigré in London, makes his living by washing cars, waiting in eateries, and singing Punjabi folk songs on the street. Cupid strikes, when he meets Meera, the daughter of a rich NRI businessman, but their romance is thwarted when she makes that fateful promise to Jesus.
Samar, fatigued, returns back to India and joins the Army. In ten years, he matures into a bomb disposal expert who has successfully defused 98 explosives, and is nicknamed “the man who cannot die”. Intrigued by his story, aspiring documentary filmmaker Akira (Anushka Sharma) attaches herself to his unit and travels with them to shoot Samar at work. Predictably, the feisty Akira is drawn to Samar’s ominous intensity, and pretty soon finds herself hopelessly in love.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan, receives a modern treatment. It’s a bit of a stretch to take in typical tropes like an accident that happens not once, but twice to the same character, a spot of amnesia, and that tired routine of having long, loud exchanges with God. The other quibble you’re bound to have with Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the indulgent, leisurely storytelling that drags its feet in the second half.
But nevertheless, the truth is that whether you agree with, or aren’t a fan of Chopra’s brand of love stories, he conveys them with complete conviction. The two female protagonists in this tale are deliberately different – Meera is the classic, Yash Chopra heroine (albeit a modern one who smokes and curses), while he introduces a new kind through Akira, described best in her own words: “I belong to the instant make out, instant break-up generation.” Katrina Kaif looks ethereally beautiful, but her emotions are limited under the shadow of a shaky, unrealistic character. Anuskha brings a spark to the film and has dialogues that stand out with her punchy, spirited take on them. But Jab Tak Hai Jaan rests with Shah Rukh Khan, and we see a subtly magnetic performance that is both charismatic and intense. The actor looks vibrant and so much younger, delivering a terrific turn as Samar, hopelessly devoted to his love.
I’m going with four out of five for the late Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Despite its many script problems, it’s a consistently watchable film that oozes with feeling and real emotion. A fitting swan song.