Jab Harry Met Sejal Scene By Scene: Part 1, First Song and First Meeting

Welcome to the first scene by scene since Bahubali 2!  Which might make you go “really?  This movie?”  But yes!  Really!  This movie!  It deserves it. (full index of JHMS coverage here)

Before jumping in, let me give the 3 reasons I decide to do a scene by scene for a film:

  1. Enough people have seen it recently to enjoy these posts
  2. The movie is important enough to deserve it
  3. I have enough stuff to say

The last is the easiest, I almost always have enough stuff to say!

The second is a little rarer.  “Important” meaning significant both critically and commercially.  Every Khan film fulfills that requirement.  And also random surprise films like Neerja, Bajirao, Airlift.

And then there’s the trickiest requirement.  After spending gobs and gobs of time summarizing movies like Baaghi, and then getting no views on those posts, I realized that the smart thing is to just do a quick summary at the start of my SPOILER review and only spend the time to do the real scene by scene when a large number of my readers have actually seen the film and seem like they would want to talk about it in detail.

So, that’s why there hasn’t been a scene by scene since Bahubali!  Tubelight, fails the “readers have seen it” requirement and the “I had stuff to say” requirement (not just a bad movie, but an uninteresting movie).  Raabta, fails the “readers have seen it” and the “important!” requirement (although I totally had lots to say about it).  And so on and so forth.  But a Shahrukh Khan movie, knowing my commentariat, is something a large number of you will be seeing multiple times, and will enjoy talking about in great detail.  Also, this movie is legitimately good.  Not great and perfect, but a good film that will reward analysis.  And it’s an “important” film because Shahrukh Khan is starring in it.  Which means the industry will be paying a lot of attention to it, and it will inevitably have an effect on the next films that come out (either imitation or avoidance, depending on how the box office shakes out).

So, scene by scene!  Woo-hoo!  Let’s start!

We open with a song.  Which is kind of unusual in Indian film, usually the song marks the beginning of the “real” film, the part after the first ten-twenty minutes when everyone is waiting in line for popcorn or finding their seats.  To just jump right into a song is strange.

(Might explain why it doesn’t have a real song video, they wanted the audience to be paying attention right from the start)

And this is kind of a strange song to use as an opener.  It’s not fun and bouncy and “hey everybody, get in out of the lobby and have some fun, the movie is here!”  It’s kind of slow and has a unique bit of a bite to it.

But that’s also why it is the perfect opener for this particular film.  This isn’t going to be a “hey, let’s have fun!” movie, this is going to be a slow and reflective and internal movie with a bit of a bite to it.  And the message is going to be conveyed primarily through songs.  Which is why we start with a song, this isn’t the “hey, the real movie is starting!” song, this is the exposition that sets up the rest of the plot.  But in song.

And it’s a really good song!  All the songs are really good in this film, both the sound of them and the visuals.  They aren’t the songs that people think songs should be, not big bouncy club songs, or plot moving songs.  But they are what songs used to be, back in the “classic” 1950s era.  Scattered throughout a film, not a big break from the rest of the movie necessarily, but just part of the regular flow of it.  You might as easily sing as you would talk.  Sometimes more easily.

So, what is the point of this particular song?  It’s “Safar”, which is really pretty, but also has really deep lyrics.  It’s about traveling, or more accurately, being in transit.  There is a certain kind of untethered feeling you get when you are traveling between point A and point B, whether it is commuting every morning or taking a plane from America to India.  A not here or there feeling.

It can be refreshing, that feeling is part of the reason I enjoy traveling.  I have my pleasure books and my little bag of snacks, and I enjoy being completely untethered for a while, not feeling like I have to do anything for my boss or my family or my friends.  But you don’t want to feel like that all the time.

That’s what this song is about.  Feeling like you have forgotten how to be out of that untethered space, like that is all you have now.  The lyrics are really sad if you listen to them!  And they give you the entire backstory for this character, nothing else needed.  “I left my village and lost myself”, “milestones are my friend”, “the world is the same everyday”.  There isn’t a lot we need to know besides that.  He is a man who has become so used to traveling that he has forgotten what it is like to be settled, to be out of this limbo space.

Image result for shahrukh khan jab harry met sejal set photo

(also, he’s really hot.  The first set photos that came out were from “Safar”, and right away I went “oh wow, he’s hot!”)

And if we did need more, we have the visuals.  Ready to get your mind blown?  I realized later in the film that this song is supposed to be showing him on the job with Anushka’s tour group.  It covers the month they spent together before they knew each other.  On a second watch I will have to see if they hid her in the background of the crowd, as unnoticed by the audience as she was by Shahrukh.

So, let’s look at how this tour went.  First, it is all the same places that Anushka and Shahrukh will go together later.  This is never a movie about sight-seeing, about making us want to visit these places (Fan did a better job of making Dubrovnick look awesome than this movie does of making me want to tour all of Europe), but when it is Shahrukh and Anushka there, we don’t notice where they are, and they don’t notice where they are, because it is more about being there together than anything else.  In this song, all those same places are half-glimpsed through Shahrukh’s tired eyes.  A windmill in Amsterdam is filmed the same as the tour bus they arrived in.  Because that’s what they are to him now, just part of his job, nothing exciting or interesting or beautiful any more.  The whole world has become his office, in a way, and all the people in it have become no more than “clients”.

Image result for fan dubrovnik

(So pretty!)

And let’s look at those people!  Again, if this is supposed to be Anushka’s tour, it helps a lot with explaining his reaction to being forced to spend more time with her.  And even if it isn’t supposed to be her tour, if it is supposed to be an amalgam of tour groups (because they all feel the same to him now), it still explains it, explains why he desperately wants his time by himself.

We see him making tired jokes he has probably made a million times before, herding them this way and that, and for all his troubles, getting an angry demanding speech in his face, during which we in the audience see him preparing to spit, but then pulling back at the last minute and putting on his polite professional face again.  This is his relationship with these people, to him they are tools of his trade, not people, but sheep he has to take care of, or machines he has to press the right button on to make react.  And to them, he isn’t a person either.  He is there to be abused, demanded, invisible and forgotten.

This miserable song carries through out the rest of the film.  It’s a good opener for the story they wanted to tell.  This man is so sad and lost, and yet he is also fallen so low that he is afraid to lose the miserable life he has.  He makes the tired jokes and is polite to the horrible people because he is deadly afraid of losing this job.  He isn’t a young confident rich hero, he is old and desperate and has little security to hold on to.  We see him sleeping on train benches, carrying his clothes in a duffel bag because he has nowhere else to keep them.  He’s homeless, not in the poetic way, but in the literal way.  He is so economically desperate, he doesn’t even have a home.  We need to know all of this about him so we can understand how Anushka comes into his life like a bolt of lightening.

Oh, and one more thing about this song, we get little black and white faded flashes of the Punjab while it is playing.  So we know exactly what it is he has lost.  His identity is tied up in his home, in who he is supposed to be.  As are all our identities.  And he has lost that somehow, deep in the heart of him is supposed to be wheat fields and colorful saris and narrow brick lanes.  But it has been closed off somehow, he doesn’t even have that any more.  And he needs it desperately, so much so that his mind keeps searching for it even while he is walking through towns a world away.

(Imtiaz used the same effect in Highway to help explain our silent hero there, Randeep.  But Shahrukh is way way more sympathetic than Randeep!  Less “I’ll sell you to a brothel”y, which is kind of my baseline for a hero)

And then, finally, we meet our heroine!  The woman who can “save” him from all of this.  And now I get to talk about colors!  Woo-hoo!  I love talking about colors.

Throughout “Safar”, the skies are overcast, and Shahrukh is in grey and dull blue, the only splash of color being the orange sign he carries (oooo!  Basanti!).  For the rest of the film, he will dress in blacks, whites, and greys.  Partly because Shahrukh looks dead sexy in blacks whites and greys, but also because that is who he is.  Colors in Indian film aren’t just “colors” like they are in any other film, they are a signifier of Indian identity.  Not a made up one, a real one.  Indian clothes are way way brighter than clothes from other places.  That’s just what it is.  And for him to wear all these greys is as significant as wearing a tie or jeans in showing how he has lost his Indian identity.

Oh!  One thing I will be coming back to later is how we also see, through all of this, that he is still wearing his steel bracelet.  It’s the only thing remaining and it also kind of shows how much he has lost.  If he is someone to whom a steel bracelet feels like second nature, so much that he doesn’t even think about whether he is wearing it or not, that probably means he was once someone to whom a turban, an uncut kesh, and everything else also felt natural.  And now he has lost all those things.

Shahrukh says good-bye to her tour group at the airport.  And immediately strips off his jacket and tie to return to who he feels he “really” is, this sexy bad boy type.  And leaps in his sexy bad boy type sports car and leaves the airport.  This is the part that felt most Tamasha-y to me, where I could suddenly really see Ranbir playing the role.  It’s another split personality role.  While with the tour, he has to become someone other than he really is.  More than just putting on “company manners”, there’s a whole different way he talks, his expressions, his posture, it’s all different in “Safar” than the rest of the movie.  But, I don’t know why I thought this should be Ranbir just because of Tamasha (which I hated, by the way).  Shahrukh is the king of the odd double role/split personality movie.  Has been from Baazigar straight through to Fan.

(Shahrukh might also have been able to make me find this character sympathetic in his misery, instead of just super cowardly and self-centered)

So we have Shahrukh, the “real” Shahrukh, pulling out in his car when suddenly Anushka shows up.  A vibrant splotch of color on the screen.  The airport is grey and white, the car is black, Shahrukh is in white, and there she is in a bright red coat.  She is both the spot of color come to upset his life, and also so so Indian!  Western style clothes, but in Indian type colors.  Vibrant screaming colors that jump off the screen and make her stand out from the crowd.

And that’s why Shahrukh can’t stand her.  Because she is a particular type of overly confident “pretty” Indian girl and he has spent the past month waiting on her family and doesn’t want to deal with another spoiled demand.  If she had come out in a beige coat, it would have been different.  Well, and if she hadn’t addressed him the way she had.

She comes out already making a demand on him, saying he “has” to take her back to the hotel.  She is also a little panicky during that initial request, breathlessly explaining that she lost her ring, her fiance has broken the engagement unless she can find it, she has to go back.  If he had responded as she was expecting, like the nice polite tour guide robot they have employed for the past month, she would have been perfectly happy.  Probably calm and polite too.  But instead he responded like Shahrukh, the free man.  He doesn’t care and he won’t help.  Which turns her into Anushka, spoiled brat.  She yells, she threatens, she forces him to agree or she will call his boss.  And then once she has her way, she gets in his car, perfectly happy.

Anushka is really awful in this scene.  Seems completely unaware that Shahrukh needs some alone time now, that she can’t just expect everyone in the world to do exactly what she wants when she wants it.  And I wish we had gotten just a smidge more backstory to explain why she is so awful.  We know why Shahrukh is so awful, he is depressed and lost and hates having to give up his manhood serving these people.  But why is Anushka so demanding and unaware of other people’s needs?

We get a little tiny bit of backstory to explain it later. We learn that her fiance always blames her for everything.  We learn that she is the lawyer for the family business.  We learn that her family makes her sing a sweet “Radha” song at every family event.  So, I can kind of patchwork together motivation here.  She comes out in a panic, because she is terrified of doing something wrong, of being less than perfect for the family and her fiance.  She is trained to argue and fight in a situation.  And so when she sees argument from him, and she really really needs something from him, she goes straight to the logical arguments and mild threats.  She puts up a front of being confident and demanding like she has been taught in business, but underneath it she is a terrified little girl who doesn’t want to disappoint.

Oh, one final thing, she of course doesn’t realize that she is making more than a mild threat.  She says she will call his boss to complain, and Shahrukh gives in immediately.  Which seems like he was just arguing for the sake of it earlier, he must not have really minded if one little suggestion of a phone call was enough.  But she doesn’t know that he already has dozens of complaints against him, that he is homeless, that he is terrified of losing this job.  And so Shahrukh hates her, not for what she actually did (although, again, not a very pleasant person no matter what), but for the threat she unknowingly held over him, reminding him once again that he doesn’t even have the right to say “no” any more, his life is lived by the charity of others.

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30 thoughts on “Jab Harry Met Sejal Scene By Scene: Part 1, First Song and First Meeting

  1. I’m really looking forward to this! Two things I’m thinking that really shifted my perspective on this movie. It really is a co-saving, not Sejal saving Harry. And–in this Imtiaz film, Sejal is the woman-child protagonist. Harry is not a man-child at all, he’s a sad, tired, adult. Sejal doesn’t help him grow up, but helps him to see himself and his story differently. Seeing Sejal as the woman-child helps explain her spoiled, self-centered, infuriatingly naive actions and seeming inconsistencies. And, Sejal really saves herself, by staying back, by opening herself to possibilities. Harry helps by seeing her and liking her as she is despite himself (which you pointed out in another review already).

    I’m sad because I think this gender-flip is one big reason audiences (and critics!) in India just aren’t connecting. Not to say it’s a great movie, it obviously has flaws with script and pacing, but not with characterization, to me. I’m so bugged about it that I keep tweeting at Anupama Chopra like an idiot. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really looking forward to this as well! It’s going to be a film that rewards a close watch, I can tell already.

      And yes! The more I think about it, the more I am seeing Anushka as not just an innocent, but a child. That’s why Shahrukh is avoiding her, she is just too naive for him. One thing I like is that all the woman we see Shahrukh with are grown ups. He isn’t breaking hearts and seducing innocents, he is having sex with a lot of grown women and then not knowing exactly how to end it. He’s honest when he tells Anushka that he just doesn’t see her like the others, because she isn’t like the others at all, no matter how much she protests that she is.

      It’s confusing because she is growing up at the same time she is falling in love with SRK, but the two things aren’t necessarily related. Which is what Imtiaz does so well! Love can change you and make you a better person, without needing to end in a kiss and a happy ending, and the point of the story is the personal growth, not the romance.

      On Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 5:54 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 2 people

    • I couldn’t agree more with Anushka being a child. When one understand this everything fall in place. She is childish, insecure and double-minded, and she can be this way, because why not? I hate when people talk bad about this movie and their reasons are: why Sejal followed Harry in this club? Or why she said this or that? And my “favourite”, Anuparma Chopra’s one: this plot is bad because I don’t believe they slept together without having sex. Yes, I know, Shahrukh is hot as hell but really this is your complaint?

      I was thinking that there should be a scene on the airport, showing us how Sejal discussed with her fiance over the ring, so we can see how he and her family treats her. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that is exactly what I want, that kind of scene. To show us why she is so childish, how she never really got the chance to grow up or think for herself until Shahrukh started challenging her. I was thinking, really we just need Anushka to have her own “Safar” type song. Show her living a shallow life where she is always petted and indulged but never allowed to think for herself or have her own way.

        And then traveling with Shahrukh, she finally had someone who treated her as an equal, who stood up to her without talking down to her. And she grew up to him and he grew down to her (refinding his own hope and youth).

        On Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 4:21 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        Liked by 1 person

          • Seeing it a second time tonight, going to see if she is there hidden in the background!

            On Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 4:47 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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            Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, yes. Maybe Ms Chopra has never been confused between multiple desires and expectations. Or just plain acted goofy when strongly affected by someone. Tho I’ve seen her get pretty giggly around Shah Rukh.

        I think a scene with her family and/or fiance could have clarified where she was coming from. But, as you say, its fine to have a childish, double-minded (love that idea) female character, because why not?

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  2. Pingback: Trailers and Songs! Baadshaho, A Gentleman, Bareilly Ki Barfi | dontcallitbollywood

  3. So happy that you are doing this kind of comment for this movie, too. I equally think that it is worth to get a closer look than what so many critics were able?/willing?/payed for? to do…
    My western movie knowledge made it easy for me to connect with Imtiaz’ Harry-characterization immediately and I had no problem to follow or even take part. As I love the way you write and the way you look at movies and details (I read you since long), I decided just now to join the company of other opinion-voices 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • On an unrelated note, your header image right now for this page is Shah Rukh in DDLJ waving to Kajol in that red and white jumper. Is the photo an ode to Shah Rukh looking cute as hell, to DDLJ itself, or to the sweet story of the first time Shah Rukh was impressed by Karan?

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      • All 3! No, really it’s just him looking cute. I have soooooooooooooooooo many DDLJ screenshots, and this was the one that looked the prettiest, so I made it one of my rotating header images. If you are obsessive, you can keep refreshing the screen, there are about a dozen different header options, many of them SRK.

        On Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 10:22 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • My favorite thing about that story is how Shah Rukh started to completely trust Karan with aspects of film-making. The sweater story, and the story of the “Bauji Teek Kehte Hain” scene.
          Looking back, it is cool how many careers DDLJ kickstarted, not to mention the friendships.
          Also, for someone who has possibly read and gotten their hands on every single piece of SRK information possible, it is lovely to come into new behind the scenes stories. I loved the Unsuitable Boy for many reasons, but particularly for Karan’s insights into filmmaking.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes! Unsuitable Boy was amazing, especially for all those things where you think “is this real? Or is this just publicity?” He is so honest and open in that book, I just can’t believe that if he is telling us about hiring a call boy and learning his father is dying, he would be lying about how closely he works with Shahrukh and Adi and how the industry functions.

            On Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 12:12 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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            Liked by 1 person

  4. Woah! Great points about the colors! I never noticed that! I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that Imtiaz Ali originally wanted to make a story of a suicidal man. If that is true, then I can definitely see traces of that sentiment from the opening song. From the bits of information we got from Sejal’s interaction with her family/fiancee, I gathered that Sejal is a bit sheltered and seems to be treated as a child (her sister kept on asking if Harry was with her like Harry was “a trusted adult”; Rupen telling her that she wasn’t taking the engagement seriously because she lost the ring). And because of that treatment I feel like Sejal developed a lot of insecurities about herself and she deals with those feelings by being bossy/pushy or super chipper .

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    • Oh, I love the idea of Shahrukh as the “trusted adult”! And yes, having seen it twice now, the “child” quality is getting stronger and stronger. My new thought about her character is that, without Shahrukh/this trip as a catalyst, she would have happily gotten married, had a couple of kids, and at some point ten years from now hit this same stage. Probably when she found out Rupen was cheating/leaving her (because really, there is no way that was going to be a happy marriage). Only by then she would already be trapped. The events of the film accelerated her delayed adulthood so that (luckily) she was able to get out of the life of a permanent childhood before it started. Just scene by scene, there are such changes in her behavior, it’s like she is going from child to puberty to adulthood in a month.

      On Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 11:58 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh, and I blew right past the “suicidal” comment! That is FASCINATING!!! Because it just clicks right into place with what we are seeing. It’s not “sexy bad boy”, it’s self-sabotage. He says he “can’t stop himself”, but it feels like he wants to get fired, he wants to get banished from Europe, he wants to hurt himself somehow. And certainly Safar is a great portrait of a depressed man, with everything in his life feeling just kind of faded, and no ability to make a real connection any more.

      You could take the film as it is, add in one scene at the end of Safar of him looking at a bottle of sleeping pills, and it would fit right in.

      On Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 11:58 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Pingback: Jab Harry Met Sejal Scene By Scene Part 2: A Shameful Attraction | dontcallitbollywood

  6. Pingback: Jab Harry Met Sejal Scene By Scene Index | dontcallitbollywood

  7. Yes, it could have been a tool to convey a possible suicide, but I am glad, Imtiaz didn’t give such a blatant hint…it would have also shown a non-existent side in Harry: a possible abuse of drugs (pills). The drinking in bars was part of his lonely & tiring life – he wasn’t portrayed as an addict.
    Safar’s picturization did enough to show Harry’s depression so that one would welcome Sejal as a refreshing breeze in his life…

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    • I wasn’t thinking of pills as an addiction necessarily, in my imaginary alternate edit, but as what he would choose for his preferred method of suicide. He doesn’t seem like someone who would jump or shoot himself or slit his wrists. But I could see him considering just taking a bunch of pills and drifting away.

      However, I agree with you that Safar was better with just this hint of depression and nothing explicit. We didn’t need that added stress and sense of danger of making him clearly considering death.

      Like

  8. I reread your writing, Margaret, and noticed that you mention the bracelet but not the (huge) tatoo which also is an even more permanent bond to his identity, I think.
    I liked very much that both – the bracelet and the tatoo – were never questioned or talked about…they are just there, a part of Harry, like a body part, like his accent and Punjabi words in certain situations.
    I don’t think that he ever lost his identity, he ‘simply’ forbid himself to live it.

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    • What is the tattoo of? I never really got a clear look at it. Did you?

      On Tue, Aug 15, 2017 at 3:29 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  9. You can see the full tatoo only here 😀

    http://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/bollywood/shah-rukh-khan-on-working-with-imtiaz-ali-he-states-the-obvious-but-not-too-obviously-3774095.html
    about the tatoo (among others)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ik_Onkar

    some information 🙂

    Like

  10. coming back to the circle…the first night they spent together & where Harry is tearing the ‘two sheets’, there is that wonderful cupola above…the first really beautiful circular form I noticed in the movie (I have to say that I kind of looked for these forms because during the shooting in Budapest, I noticed that Imtiaz was looking for that form – as full circle or as arch – to integrate… there was still “The Ring” as title.)

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  11. Sorry for the 3rd post in a row… (can’t add my following thoughts in another way)…Do you remember the lit circular forms at the wedding function in Mumbai, outside, where Sejal & Harry finally come together? It is a small circle in a big one, the small being attatched to the big one surrounding him…extremely hamonious & beautiful & graceful.

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    • Yes! I noticed that. There was a kind of pattern he had to step through to reach her too.

      On Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 3:03 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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