Only 2 (1?) days left! And finally, the movie that was my first thought when I saw the trailer, Pyaar to Hona Hi Tha. Which is very very hard to find and watch (thank you HotStar India and your obsession with copyright and streaming locations!), so forgive me if I miss-remember anything.
Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha is a fairly close remake of French Kiss, and both versions survive on their heroine’s unique charm. It’s a hard kind of plot to pull off, one in which our heroine is on a selfish quest and the hero is so won over that he blindly supports her. It only works if the actress can manage to sell the heroine as someone that deserves good things, that we want good things to happen to. And in this case, casting Meg Ryan in the original and Kajol in the remake are key.
Especially since the script creates a character that treads the thin line between incredibly loveable and super hateful. Our heroine is clumsy (always a sign of laziness in writing female characters) and uncomfortable with men and in other interpersonal relationships, and also afraid of flying and various other things. In the hands of a less charming actress, this could come off as a “look at me! Think about me! Talk about me!” kind of performance and person. Someone who is always going “ha-ha, I fell down again, everyone feel bad for me!”
But instead, both Kajol and Meg Ryan manage to play it as someone who is embarrassed and miserably aware of her flaws. Who is grabbing at her happiness so hard because she doesn’t feel like she really deserves it. Which just makes us in the audience want to say “yes yes! you do deserve it!”
Especially because what she is doing, in both films, is so far against what women are “supposed” to do. And not in a “I’m a rebel taking a stand!” kind of way, but in a “I feel embarrassed because this is making it look like I have failed as a person in a way that is particularly bad for a woman” kind of way. Which if done poorly would make the audience go “yeah, you have failed as a person and I have no respect for you.” But if done well makes us go “oh you poor thing! I hope it gets better.”
And we need our heroine to work, because that is the only thing that makes our hero work. Makes him less of a gigolo and more of a guy who is so desperate himself, he is able to see something special in our unnatural heroine who everyone else overlooks.
The key to both versions and, I think, to Jab Harry Met Sejal, is that she is already engaged. The plot of French Kiss/Pyaar to Hona Hi Tha is that our pitiful heroine has finally landed a man. She has stars in her eyes and thinks he is perfect while we, the audience, can see he is just sort of an average person. She is the interesting one, with her success at business and desperate desire for a family and a home after a childhood as an orphan. He is just some random guy that she has built up as the solution to all her unhappiness, and who is clearly just tolerating her because she is pretty enough and very successful. And then he leaves her too. Calls from overseas to say he has met someone in a whirlwind romance and it’s over. And our heroine goes chasing after her. Which could come off as aggressive and delusional and unpleasant, but because she is played by Meg Ryan/Kajol, it just comes off as pitiful and eager.
Enter hero! Who needs to be able to sell to the audience that he sincerely enjoys our heroine with all her faults, at the same time not seeing her as a romantic prospect because she is clearly so messed up and obsessed with this fiance. It’s a different kind of romance, one between a woman who is coming into her own and finding her confidence and beauty and happiness with a man but planning to turn around and offer all of that beauty and happiness to a different man. And a man who likes this woman in spite of himself, finds her so charming (someone who no one else has ever found charming) that he is willing help her and build her confidence and do all of this, even knowing that it is for the sake of another man, that she is blind to him. Okay, there’s some other plot complications involved as well, but at the heart, it is about a man falling so hard and so fast that he is willing to help her become a better version of herself for the sake of a different guy.
Oh, and it also all happens while traveling. Which is an important part of the whole thing, we all feel like we can be a better different version of ourselves while traveling. And we are open to making these temporary connections. Our heroine is finally able to break out of her nervous state because she is in a new place. And our hero is able to get close to her in a way he wouldn’t be able to elsewhere.
And all of this is what I want from Jab Harry Met Sejal! I want an awkward heroine, not awkward like movie cutesy awkward but for real unhappy with herself and therefore clinging to the positive reinforcement she gets from finally being engaged. And I want a hero who falls for her because of her individuality, not in spite of it. And who selflessly helps her feel better about herself, even though he knows he is just sending her to another man. Oh, and traveling. But it’s an Imtiaz Ali movie, I think we can count on the traveling.