Oh boy, I found a new angle on Jab Harry Met Sejal! I didn’t think I could, but Halloween inspired me, and I did!
Vampires are about sex. At least, the western version of vampires. The “Vikram and the Vampire” Indian version is more about sucking strength away. But I’m gonna stick with the western sex version for this analysis.
The most popular foundational vampire story in the west, Dracula, was about rape and sexual perversion. Our “good” hero Jonathan Harper resists temptation to perversion and unclean sex (the women offered to him at Dracula’s house are the equivalent of prostitutes, woman forced into offering only sex) and remains faithful to his loving equal fiancee at home. Our young woman lost to Dracula, Lucy, begins with a healthy youthful sexual curiosity, flirting with three men before choosing the one she really loves. But Dracula begins to visit her at night, making her unhappy, restless, guilt ridden and confused. After her “death”, she rises from the cemetery at night to seduce and then kill small children. And then there is Mina, our married mature woman, who has the strength to survive her rape by Dracula (although at first she blocks it out of her mind) and uses the knowledge she gained about him to help defeat him.
This is not a romantic story, Dracula is not sexy and the reactions of his victims are not those of “sexual awakening” but rather those of rape survivors. Jonathan feels weak and unclean and unmanly. Lucy loses interest in her healthy happy romance and begins acting strangely and trying to push away the man she loves. Mina at first blames herself but, with the love and support of her husband, learns to forgive herself and see her survival as strength not weakness. Most chilling, Lucy goes from being a victim to a perpetrator, surviving her own brutal attack and then finding pleasure in attacking small children.
Over the years the meaning of the original novel has been lost, vampires are now seductive entities who are good at sex and have no shame about it (unlike poor limited humans). Personally, I kind of hate this change. It’s dismissive of the past for one thing, seeing the original novel as a limited Victorian story instead of the reality that it was very sexual and healthy and non-judgemental, except for rapists and pedophiles. And it also has kind of a messy dangerous meaning if you combine it with the original “rape” intention. If a woman does not want to have sex, does not intend to have sex, and has it forced on her, does it really matter if she has a physical reaction of enjoyment? How is Dracula bringing women to orgasm by drinking their blood different from a rapist doing the same thing? The point is, she never gave him permission. And the next day, she feels dirty and wrong and unclean. That’s not “Victorian Morals”, that’s being a rape survivor.
The version of this change that I can enjoy is when the vampires have internalized the idea of themselves as rapists. That is a really interesting metaphor! What does it mean for men to be so aware of their sexual power that they never let it go, have to be forced into a sexual relationship against their will?
That is what made the Twilight books so successful and a lot of the other “sexy vampire” stuff too. It’s not about giving up control to the sexy vampire, it’s about the sexy vampire giving you the control. Saying, “I am so aware of my sexiness that I don’t dare use it, you decide”. And that, finally, brings me to Jab Harry Met Sejal.
This film only works if you accept the idea of “Harry” being so sexual as to have complete and total power over women at will. Or rather, accept the idea that HARRY believes himself to be so sexual as to have complete and total power over women at will. Yes, we see him be very sexual and seductive multiple times, but whether or not those women would have set aside common sense to be with him is unknown. Is he truly an impossible to resist Vampire-like person, or does he just have a very good sense of what woman is seducible and interested? That doesn’t matter as much as accepting that Harry himself thinks he is irresistible. And he believes that makes him a monster.
If you believe yourself to be a Vampire, that means both that you believe yourself to be irresistible, and that you believe you will drain dry and destroy your victims. Sex and guilt are tied together for Harry far more than they ever wore for the “Victorian Damsels” Lucy and Mina of the original Dracula. When Harry has sex, he feels double guilt, he takes the blame on himself for both his actions and the actions of the woman he was with. When they abuse him the next day, he accepts it, believing himself to have caused their unhappiness and deserve all their punishment because he forced them to have sex with him for his own selfish ends, draining away their joy.
What he fears in spending time with Sejal is two fold. First, that he will force her to have sex with him, giving himself another reason to feel dirty and guilty. But second, on a deeper level, that he will NOT force her to have sex with him! Because if it is possible for a woman to resist him, if he isn’t this demonic irresistible force, that means he could have had a normal happy life at any point over the past 10 years. It means he is choosing these women who only want sex from him, it means he is making himself miserable, it means that if he tried a little harder he could have been happy.
And of course, that is what happens. Sejal shows him again and again that a woman can say “no” to him, that he isn’t forcing himself on anyone, that he has much more to offer than just sex. That he isn’t a Vampire demon driven by desires, and forcing those desires on others, but just a normal human person finding people who want the same things he wants at the moment.