Happy 3 (or 2?) days until Jab Harry Met Sejal! It’s getting so close! And I really really hope it is even closer, not because I want to watch it 24 hours sooner, but because if it comes out Thursday that means I don’t have to write the review Friday night which means I might actually be able to get some sleep Friday night before I get up at dawn the next day to help my parents host 26 people. Although, I had a similar problem with the last Anushka/Shahrukh release and that turned out to be a MASSIVE disappointment, so maybe I shouldn’t worry so much. But on the other hand, their first movie together I loved. So it’s a mixed bag.
Let’s go back to the beginning with them. Yash Raj films was in financial trouble (flop after flop after flop), and Aditya Chopra wanted to direct a film for the first time in years. He wanted Shahrukh to star in it and he had a great script. But the script needed a new actress. Someone fresh and natural looking to match the natural kind of role they had imagined for Shahrukh. And someone who looked really really Punjabi. And really really young.
Anushka was a successful “model” of the Indian type. And I guess the western type too? What I mean is that she wasn’t gorgeous and walking the ramp and being in beautiful magazine spreads and all of that, the way we think when we hear the word “model”. No, she was really more of an actress than a model. She was in TV ads saying lines and selling us on her personality, not her looks. She had regular features and a great smile, but that was it. Her success was from how she could sell herself to the camera as someone we liked, as someone we trusted to tell us what to buy.
And so she was picked to be opposite Shahrukh and given a great role to start. Especially for a new actress. She had a few big scenes, but mostly she was reacting, not acting. Shahrukh’s performance sold her to us as someone loveable, beautiful, charming, funny, all of that. Which isn’t to take away from what Anushka gave us in her big scenes, she did a great job playing the depressed but logical bride, the woman finally regaining her spirit and angry at her husband, and finally the woman in love.
What couldn’t be necessarily anticipated was the chemistry that sprang up between them. Shahrukh always does well with dominating women. If you give him a love scene in which she makes all the moves and he can just stand there and smile, a fight scene in which he happily takes the blows from the woman he loves, a conversation in which he simply looks while she yells, he really shines. And then what makes it work is when there is the inevitable twist, the moment that something happens and he has to show his own dominance, that he has been enjoying play acting that she is in control, but really he is.
And Anushka is perfect for him! Tall, natural strong kind of dialogue delivery, looks at the camera fearlessly head on, immediately tells us that this is the sort of strong woman Shahrukh’s shy character will be attracted to. And their chemistry continues in that way, he is there to follow along behind, to be stunned by her chutzpah and bravery and everything else. And she is there to be the object of his esteem, even without any lines, to just look the part of the strong woman.
Anushka was great in this movie, but she was also very young and very inexperienced. It makes sense that she would be better in their next film together, 4 years and 5 films later, Jab Tak Hain Jaan. And that she would be used differently in that one.
In Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Anushka has a well-written character, but most of the weight of sustaining it falls on the script and her co-actors, not on herself. Because she was young and inexperienced and they needed the right look for the part more than anything else. Anushka surprised us by being really good in the few scenes she did need to sell, and by having great chemistry with her co-star. But the film could have stood on its own even without that.
This is not the case in Jab Tak Hain Jaan. Anushka’s “Akira” character is terribly underwritten (I fixed it in my alternate version here). In the hands of a less competent actress, she would have turned into a random combination of twitches and impulses. But with Anushka, everything kind of fit. We could see her confidence and ambition, and how it fit with her determination to win over Shahrukh first professionally and then romantically. They must have cast for that, giving Katrina the “heroine” role, supported by the script, and Anushka the “loser” role, knowing she could make it work.
What they didn’t anticipate, I think, is that Anushka and Shahrukh’s chemistry had only grown in the years since Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. She was 24 in Jab Tak Hain Jaan, and she came across as even older. It no longer felt like an odd May-December couple, more like two adults who have different personalities and shared interests coming together. And yet they still worked for all the reasons they had worked in their first movie. Anushka still projects strength and fire, and Shahrukh is still the immoveable rock who enjoys her beating against him. And this, along with other reasons, is why this film just didn’t work. Anushka and Shahrukh’s chemistry lit up the screen and cast the supposed “real” romance, between Shahrukh and Katrina, into the shade.
And now, finally, we have a 3rd “real” romance between Shahrukh and Anushka. With a 4th one coming up soon (Aanand L. Rai’s mysterious dwarf movie). And the 3rd one, from what we have seen, looks to be keeping all the good parts of their dynamic and adding some new ones. Anushka is still the fire while Shahrukh is the rock. She is still an adult, matching his adulthood, feeling like the age difference isn’t as big as it could be if the people fit together. But there is an added dimension this time. This time, Shahrukh can’t admit to himself that he enjoys the way she makes demands on him, challenges him, flusters him. And she can’t admit (or maybe truly doesn’t feel?) that she likes flustering him, having him around her. Instead of this being a courtship carried out through two opposites beating against one another, this might be two opposites beating against one another who finally realize they are in love. Love coming last, if you see what I mean, instead of first as it did for Shahrukh in Rab Ne and Anushka in Jab Tak.