Valentine’s Week of Sex: Happy Valentine’s Day! A Gift for You, a New JHMS Review, JHMS and Sexual Compatibility as a Real Romantic Obstacle

I love writing about JHMS!!!! And this will get me hyped to go see Imtiaz’s new film which I’m really not that excited about.

JHMS is a screwball comedy, and it is also a serious relationship drama. The part that is the serious relationship drama revolves around a serious consideration of sexual compatibility in a couple. The part that is a comedy revolves around a couple sublimating desire with arguments.

Image result for jab harry met sejal poster

Howard Hawks in Hollywood in the 1930s defined this genre of screwball comedy. In Bringing Up Baby (and then again in Man’s Favorite Sport because he was lazy) he has a “psychiatrist” character tell the heroine “the love impulse in a man frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict”. It’s a classic comedy set up to have two miss-matched characters constantly thrown together. In good screwball romances, we see that the miss-matched characters are being drawn together because they secretly love each other. In the best screwball comedies, we understand that the conflict between them isn’t because they are “miss-matched” but because they are perfectly matched and are resisting that truth. Arguments become sexy, it’s how you know this is the “good” couple, the “bad” couple (Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant and Virginia Walker, Anushka and her boring fiance) is very boring and never fights.

That’s what one level of JHMS is about. Our hero and heroine are completely miss-matched in background, personality, everything. She is a sheltered spoiled young woman who confidently makes demands and is blind to the realities of the world. He is an older experienced man who knows too much about the world. They are “forced” to travel together. That is, in the perfect balance of a good screwball comedy, they are kind of forced together but the reality which is clear to everyone but them is that they are forcing themselves together. Anushka claims that her family will only let her stay in Europe a few more days if Shahrukh acts as her guide. Shahrukh claims that he will be fired if he does not agree. But that’s not REALLY true, right? It’s true enough to be a legitimate reason they can point to, but as time goes on Anushka could easily return home and say good-bye to Shahrukh, and Shahrukh could easily ask her to switch guides now that she is more independent. They are together because they want to be together, but can’t admit it and therefore are clinging to the situational excuse.

And they are clinging to the arguments. Shahrukh tells himself that Anushka is childish and irritating, Anushka tells herself that Shahrukh is low class and silly–they fight so they won’t kiss. Again, screwball comedy 101. They are both as firmly themselves as they can be, in order to prevent meeting in the middle and acknowledging they are in love.

The woman is the one who admits love first. Again, screwball comedy rules. In a “normal” romance, it is the man who pursues and the woman who is chased. That’s not a fiction rule, that’s a way of the world rule. In order for a woman to pursue, she has to turn the world upside down, and that’s funny. A woman proposing, a woman asking a man to dance, a woman sexually desiring a man who does not desire her, we laugh because it is against the rules of how things “should” be, just like we laugh at a police officer who is a coward, or a dog who hates bones. And so in JHMS, it is the young innocent woman who keeps bringing up sex and flirtation and literally chasing after the older experienced man. It makes him uncomfortable, and it makes the audience laugh to see his discomfort. Funny!

That’s all the surface level, the usual screwball story. And in the usual screwball story, there is also the one moment when the sexual desire underneath suddenly bursts through. Usually at the peak of an argument, or a crazy screwball misunderstanding, the man will grab the woman and kiss her and sexual desire will blossom beyond all expectations. The point of that one moment is to show how, despite all the surface differences, they are a perfect sexual match, more so than anyone else in the film. In What’s Up Doc?, Peter Bogdanovich’s tribute to the classic screwballs, he has Ryan O’Neal kiss Barbra 2/3rds through the movie. It’s deeply sexy, and romantic, and acknowledges that they have something on fire between them. But then they go back to semi-ignoring it, because the surface problems make it inconvenient.

Here is where JHMS takes a sharp veer from traditional screwball. The central problem between our couple, beyond age and wealth and background, is sexual experience. Every other screwball, that is the one thing they share but they are in denial about how important it is, focusing on everything else around sex instead (“the love impulse in man frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict”). JHMS cranks through the age/wealth/background differences in one song, “Radha”. In a traditional screwball, that would be the end of the film. They are two very different people thrown together, they fight, she decides she is in love and pursues him, he resists acknowledging his feelings, finally there is a big comic set piece that brings it all to the surface and, after one final fight, he admits his feelings. Happily Ever After.


Only, in JHMS, the film keeps going. They bond in “Radha” and stroll off arm in arm into the sunset. And then Anushka innocently suggest she should be Shahrukh’s “girlfriend” and reality hits that, even if they get along perfectly now, they still have a vast sexual gap between them.

Not just in classic screwballs, but in every other Indian film romance, this is where the movie ends. Our hero and heroine are in love, everything else will work out. But JHMS is brave enough to look at the reality, a man with vast sexual experience and a virgin who has barely kissed have a relationship issue that may break them apart.

This is the conversation most real couples, let alone fictional couples, are too scared to have. It feels shallow, unromantic, just plain Wrong to think about sexual compatibility when you are falling in love. Especially when it isn’t a matter of attraction. By this point in the film, in the classic screwball way, Anushka has realized she is attracted to Shahrukh and Shahrukh has given in and admitted that this “wacky dame” appeals to him too. But that’s not the same as sexual compatibility.

In “Hawayein” Shahrukh tests the waters, puts out some sexual vibes and sees Anushka’s completely innocent and ignorant reaction. It confirms for him that this cannot work, and he tries to warn her away because he knows they are headed for misery and frustration. Anushka is too innocent to even understand the warning. So Shahrukh is trapped, aware that he would shock and hurt Anushka if they had a sexual relationship. Where the film veers is that Shahrukh, against his expectations, finds himself taking a step down to meet her. As they spend time together, he returns to an innocent kind of sexuality, tickling and hugging. But it can’t last. He keeps scaring her with his needs, in the deleted “no touch” scene, in the conversation with his ex-girlfriend when Anushka swallows her discomfort at Harry’s sexual past. He is trying to kill his needs in order to keep her happy and safe, but it is unnatural. And Anushka at the same time is blossoming, becoming increasingly aware of herself as a sexual being and frustrated by Shahrukh’s unwillingness to give her what she wants.

By the Portuguese sequence, they are both sexually frustrated and yet they can’t give each other what they need. Anushka is ready to lose her virginity, “Phurr” sees her fully awaken to the needs of her body. And Shahrukh is increasingly tormented at not being able to have her. But what Shahrukh needs is free experienced crazy high level sex, and what Anushka needs is soft sweet gentle caring love making.

This movie takes the threat of bad sex seriously. This is a couple that has fallen in love, that is very attracted to each other. But if Shahrukh scares her, goes too far during her first time ever, it could kill any attraction or love between them. More than that, it could damage Anushka for the rest of her life, make her forever afraid of her body and sexual pleasure. I could honestly see a version of this film where they hire a sexual surrogate to take Anushka through her first few times so that she can have her needs met, and Shahrukh doesn’t have to worry about hurting her because he desires her too much to control himself.

By the “Raula” scene and party afterwards, the unspoken agreement is that they will never have sex. They came so close after “Yaadon Mein” and it scared Shahrukh. He knew that he would hurt her, in so many ways, if he let himself go. Physically hurt her, be too rough and need to much from her. And also make her feel dirty, wrong, sinful because of the morality that she would remember when she woke up. And so the morning is a fresh start, they smile and laugh because they have both taken sex off the table. They can flirt, they can touch, but they won’t have sex.

And then Mayank pushes in the issue, and forces them to talk about where this is going. And Anushka’s answer is that it is going nowhere, they will exist in this sexless limbo for eternity. Shahrukh wants more, he wants her with him forever, and he needs sex. That’s their fight, he confronts her with the ugliness of his needs and the reality that she cannot fulfill them. There’s more to it than just sex, it’s about her whole reluctance to commit to what they are doing, to what she is feeling. But sex is a part of it. Shahrukh is a human man who wants a woman, and Anushka is asking-without-asking that he kill that part of himself and live a PG rated fantasy as long as she wants.

Again, let’s look at other Indian films. In most films, we are supposed to believe that our hero is sexually experienced and desires our virginal heroine, and somehow on the First Night he will have all his needs met and she will enjoy herself. The reality is that the “first night” in this situation is terrifying and uncomfortable and unpleasant for the woman. Or there is the other story, the sexually experienced man who desires the virginal heroine, and restrains himself. For months. Satisfied with the little dribbles of sexuality she gives him. He has inhuman control and it doesn’t hurt at all. But this film says no. In this situation, the man is in pain and unhappy, and the woman won’t simply “adjust” if he lets loose. It’s not a happy situation for either of them, and there are no rainbows and puppies that will make it better. So they break up.

This is how the first night should/would go. And in this case, our “hero” is a clean living young man who may be a virgin as well, or at least very close to it. He can restrain himself, he can see her needs as equal to his own, he can slow down to her level and bring her up slowly. 38 year old hard living Harry is not this man.

At the airport, Anushka shows Shahrukh she had the ring and thereby admits that she really does love him and wants to be with him. And Shahrukh lets her go with his blessing, admitting that he really loves her. This seems like a stupid break up. Yes, they had a fight the night before, but they both love each other, why not stay together? Heck, Shahrukh is well aware that Anushka is returning to a family and fiance that don’t love her, and Anushka knows that Shahrukh is returning to a lonely unhealthy life. Why are they cursing each other with loneliness?

Because to stay together would be a different kind of curse. They are just not sexually compatible. They would need to live with the constant torture of wanting something from the other that they cannot have. Anushka would remain a virgin the rest of her life, and Shahrukh would have to have a life of celibacy. Better to set the other free, let Anushka go to her nice safe fiance who can give her a nice safe sex life, and let Shahrukh go back to his life of experienced women.

By the end of the film, that is all that is left between them, the only conflict is that they cannot have a sexual relationship. And that is what the “Ghar” song is about, acknowledging that it is worth the pain to be together. Shahrukh finally decides he wants Anushka, that he wants her so much he will be able to control himself. And Anushka decides that she is ready, she can handle a real full sex life with Shahrukh. And if it doesn’t work, just being together will still be so much better than being apart.

And so Anushka cancels her wedding, and Shahrukh flies to Bombay to find her. And he gives her a speech which is saying “I need you so much, that sex will be okay. You fill a gap in my life that is bigger than sexual desire, and I swear that I will always make you feel needed, make you know that you satisfy me”. And Anushka says “Okay, I am ready”.

That first kiss is terrifying, for both of them. At this point they have already committed to each other, the only question is what kind of life will they have. Will it be frustrated and painful and sexless, but still better than being apart? Or will they be able to meet in the middle, will Shahrukh be able to restrain himself and Anushka be able to satisfy him? And the answer is yes, they can meet in the middle. The hug afterwards is pure relief, they have crossed the worst obstacle to being together, finally.

Image result for jab harry met sejal hug

7 thoughts on “Valentine’s Week of Sex: Happy Valentine’s Day! A Gift for You, a New JHMS Review, JHMS and Sexual Compatibility as a Real Romantic Obstacle

  1. Totally fascinating read. I never tire of your thoughts about JHMS. I had not drilled down (no pun intended) to this level of the struggle over sexual desire. It is clear that Anushka plays with the idea of sex (I’ll be your girlfriend, deleted no touch scene, even starting with following him to the club and being offended that he’s not all over her) to push the envelope, see how far she can go, since it’s exciting but not threatening in any way. It’s kind of cruel to him when I think about it. But I don’t think it’s malicious, just childish. She doesn’t know anything about the thing she wants but is terrified of. So she can go right up to the edge over and over like a kid testing limits and looking back to see how a parent reacts. He actually gives her what she needs to feel safe every time by being the one who backs off and sets a limit. Even when it veers toward his desire she ends up throwing in what my former-comedy-writer spouse calls ‘treacle cutters’ like at the end of Hawaieyn where she tells him to talk to/teach Rupen and she’ll be set for life. Scary sexual desire averted on her terms! Shahrukh pushes back, it’s getting real lady, you better hit the bricks or we are doomed, and she reminds him she’s just teasing…as soon as the ring is found, “ok Tata bye.” When they finally get close to it at the end of Yaadon Mein he is the one once again to stop the action. She’s not a petulant child there as earlier, she’s relieved and honored by being ‘not like the others’ so it fits better into her world view – he’s willing to wait and hold back to demonstrate his true affection for her.

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    • Yes! Exactly, it’s not fair to him, but she isn’t even aware enough to realize how unfair it is. Until later in the film when she is fully awake both to the fact that he desires her (it wasn’t cruel to do all that playing before, when she was working on the assumption that no matter what he wouldn’t be attracted to her anyway, like flirting with your gay bff), and that it is painful for him to turn away because people have needs and it hurts to ignore them (before Phurr, she wasn’t even really aware of what sexual desire feels like). That is when she offers herself in Yaadon Mein, acknowledges “I know this is going to hurt me, but it is what you need, so I will take the hurt”. And when he turns away that time she is fully aware that it is a sacrifice for him, that he is ignoring his needs in order to protect her.

      Such a realistic adult way of handling the situation, In other films it is about protecting her “virtue” or something. But in this case it isn’t about some abstract idea, it is about a young woman who could really be hurt, physically hurt, if this goes too far. And in that moment, Shahrukh couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t go too far, wouldn’t let his own needs run away from himself. “Not like this” wasn’t about “not before marriage” but about “not in this moment of heightened emotion when I can’t control myself, not without thought or love or softness”.

      On Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 11:34 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Interesting. I would put this together with your virginity post and suggest that his need for her that he was fighting was not so much for sex (though that too) as for intimacy. His fear of wanting too much I didn’t see as physical hurt but that his loneliness had turned into an insatiable hunger that would hurt her by ripping her away from everything safe and familiar. Which it did, in the end, she became someone she didn’t even recognize, but it turned out she was OK with that, desired it too even. Sex as a metaphor for death and transformation.

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    • First, yaaaay! Someone read my virginity post!!!

      Second, I like your introduction of the emotional virginity idea into the film. I would argue that Anushka “gives” Shahrukh her emotional virginity in the Radha song, followed by offering to be his girlfriend. From then on he sleeps with her at night, and casually touches her, and all kinds of things that would otherwise be “wrong”. Because she has already lost that virginity, they are in a strange space where Shahrukh does theoretically have the right to take her virginity, he knows she has made that one time forever commitment to him in her heart. And where Anushka has already “cheated” on her fiance in an important way. If he sends her home, she will never be fully part of her marriage, there will always be a part of her missing. Like all the other heroines who married after being in love with someone else. But sex is something else, are they going to be a couple who love each other but are never really together or are they going to take that additional step?

      On Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 11:23 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I go with Rachel for the exitement over your thoughts concerning JHMS…and I go with Emily for the thought of intimacy.
    I think that Sejal is looking for intimacy and Harry is frightened by it (we don’t know his sexual journey, but we know that he has learned to fear attatchement).
    I still find it fascinating that their journey could have proceeded and/or ended in other ways… such an intelligent movie!

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    • Glad you liked it! It’s kind of silly how many JHMS posts I have written at this point, but I keep enjoying them and so do other people.

      On Sat, Feb 15, 2020 at 10:46 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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