Happy Jab Harry Met Sejal Week! I always get a scattering of complaints when I do theme weeks like this. Which might be my fault, because I don’t make it clear why I am doing this and what it really is (not just fangirling over a new big release). And I know I have a lot of new readers now, so I am going to quickly explain why there is this thusness before moving on in the post.
Films are always about conversations with other films. Nothing exists in a vacuum, especially film. They are collaborative art pieces, with a bunch of people bringing their own history and diverse talents and experiences to the table. And bringing with them the whole history of films that they have seen and liked, or not liked, and want to experiment with doing better. And so, before a big release comes out (and all Khan films are big releases), I like to do a theme week where I discuss all the previous films that might be related to or have influence on or in some way be worth thinking about in order to better appreciate the movie that is about to come out.
Obviously these are all guesses, if I waited until the movie came out, I could do the same thing and actually know what it was referring back to. But then you wouldn’t be able to go into the theater having all these things already in your mind the first time you saw it. Plus, I like the game of thinking about all the possibilities in the world and seeing if I am right.
As for the posts themselves, they are little mini-reviews focusing on one element of a different film every day. It’s not just insane fangirling out, it’s really interesting theme-based posts that are different than anything you will see at any other time. Please read them! Please don’t just think “oh, Margaret has lost her mind because she is a Shahrukh fangirl” (which is a little true, but not what this is about) or “I’m not planning to see Jab Harry Met Sejal, I won’t bother.”
Oh, and also, ALL the posts have spoilers in them. Because they are sort of thematic reviews, they only work if you already have a general idea of the film, so that’s the assumption, that you know the whole plot and are ready to think about one particular area. Or don’t care about being spoiled because you never plan to see the movie.
Now, with that out of the way, what is the greatest tour guide film of all time? The film that this one HAS to remind us of because it is so important and vital and influential? Guide, obviously. (if you are obsessive about Guide, so am I, wrote 4 separate posts, here and here and here and here)
So, what can Guide teach us about Jab Harry Met Sejal? First, there’s that tagline from the first full trailer, “a tour guide who is lost” and “a woman in need of guidance”. It brings up the question of what kind of man chooses to be a tour guide, and what kind of woman would be so desperate that she would see through the “guide” to the man.
In Guide, our tour guide character not only serves as a great character, but as a bit of a deconstruction of the Dev Anand persona. Cool, sophisticated, never seeming to be touched by anything around him. All the women want him and he seemingly wants nothing. That’s why he is the perfect guide, he can disappear into his role, becoming whatever you need him to be and providing a momentary vacation from real life.
But he’s not really untouched. In both the book and the film we see that he gets more from his tourists than they get from him. He needs that adulation, that no strings kind of relationship. It feeds into his ego and gives him a sense of balance he is too empty to find elsewhere. The person who seemingly needs nobody in fact needs people the most. Needs them to need him.
Enter Rosie! Waheeda Rahman in Guide is the woman who needs him the most. That’s what he can’t resist, someone who really really needs him. His happiest time is when she relies on him utterly, when he can just follow in her footsteps. That is the secret of the tour guide, he isn’t actually guiding you, you are guiding him.
That’s what makes Guide a really deep film, a truly Great film, that it takes this romance in which she guides him, and then tells us that same story but about spirituality. Dev becomes a Guru for a village. Not because he is guiding them, but because they are guiding him, guiding him to care about others, to see a bigger reality, to fully understand how we are all connected. To put it in Christian terms, his flock is leading the shepherd, not the other way around. And that is how he finally learns to let go of all needs, to become that perfect disconnected person he appeared to be at the beginning. This time, the cool other worldliness isn’t an illusion, it becomes reality, he is on a different plane from others, he can truly “guide” them in a new direction.
Now, let’s look at what we have seen of Jab Harry Met Sejal, what we know of Imtiaz Ali, and where Shahrukh is as a romantic star. Here’s one big thing that is becoming increasingly clear, this will be more of an internal growth journey for “Harry” than it will be “Sejal”. We can see that just from the songs that have released, two songs entirely from Shahrukh/Harry’s head, and none from Sejal’s. In the first song, it is talking about the bleakness of life as a traveler, and the images are showing us him not really connecting, seeming to float through life a little.
In the second song, he is connecting, but explicitly connecting to just one person. That’s what the lyrics are saying (thank you Red Chillies for the subtitles!), that he is nothing if he doesn’t have her. That sounds romantic, but I think maybe it is meant to be literal? He was a sad lost man who didn’t know how to connect any more, until he met the one person who broke through to him.
And finally, in the trailer (also with subtitles now!), there is mention of SRK/Harry feeling that God himself has forsaken him and Sejal asking if he has ever looked for God.
I don’t necessarily think that Imtiaz Ali sat down and went “aha! I shall remake Guide with a new aging romantic star and a new young woman who breaks through his barriers!” But there is something unique about the idea of the person who only flits in and out of others’ lives, while they are on vacation, never while they are doing something “real”. And using that idea opens up a particular kind of plot options.
If it were a different director, I would lean more towards something like Shivaay, incredibly stupid vacation romance type thing. But Imtiaz, especially recently, tends to like to go deep. To put his characters on more of a spiritual quest.
And so I wonder, is Shahrukh just going to fall in love with Anushka? Or is he going to fall in love with people, with life, with connections to a higher power? Is their connection going to change him into a better man in a way that is divorced from whether or not he “gets the girl”? Is she going to heal something broken inside that lead him to turn into this cool removed Guide?