Woo-hoo! I get to write about 3 of my FAVORITE movies!!!! They are all so so SO good, all in different ways.
Let’s start with “When Harry Met Sally”. The “gimmick” of the film is that we see the same characters in three different time periods (college, young adult, middle-adult). It’s fun watching how things change and how they stay the same, and it’s fun having these sort of short skits with no real beginning and no end for each era. That’s really what a lot of the film feels like, like two really good improve partners playing off each other in a series of situations (“now you are on a car trip” “now you are on a plane” “now you are at a diner”).
That’s the superficial appeal, two entertainers adlibbing and having fun with each other without a lot of narrative baggage. But the deeper appeal is what it says about how people fall in love, specifically how the baby boomer generation falls in love, a generation that accepted the idea of sexual freedom and multiple relationships before marriage. When Harry and Sally meet, she is a proper college student sure that she is in love with her college boyfriend and everything will be perfect. And he is an obnoxious college student acting out to try to make an impression. When they meet again, she is in a new relationship with an acquaintance of Harry, and he is engaged. He is a cocky successful professional, she has learned to be calmer and more open-minded but still doesn’t much like him. And finally, they meet a third time, when their lives have hit a speedbump. They are both recovering from breakups, trying to rebuild a life and an identity at an age when they thought they were done with changes. And now, now is when they meet in the middle.
What this movie is saying is that love is about timing. Harry meets Sally over and over again, but they don’t really “meet” each other until they have reached a point in their lives when they are comfortable with who they really are, and able to appreciate the other person. This is radical. We’ve had years of romances between rebellious teens, or between cool suave exciting 20-somethings. But here is a romance saying “no, the best love is after all of that, when you are old and a little broken down and have figured out who you really are”. That’s why we have the 3 part structure. In other movies, you would have had them call in love over the college road trip. Or you would have had a surprise passionate affair while they were in relationships with other people. But this movie says “forget all those old-fashioned love stories, in the new world people fall in love when they are full grown adults, because you aren’t fully capable of love until then”.
Really, I cannot say enough about how brilliantly When Harry Met Sally is constructed. There’s a reason that we have random talking heads of older couples saying how they met. It’s to tell us that every couple has their own story, there is no “perfect” how you met story, and no “standard” how you met story. Reality is about the messiness and randomness of it all. There’s a reason we have the contrast of their friends Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby who really do fall in love easily at first sight. There’s even a reason Sally has the tick of order precisely what she wants, she is “picky”, but that’s okay, because she can recognize the best thing when she has it.
But the main point is the idea of a couple who don’t truly “meet” until the end of the film. Who have to grow towards each other. That’s something that can be done by showing a long period of time and two people changing, or something that can be shown in condensed time as the layers of pretense are stripped away.
Hum-Tum is the “real” When Harry Met Sally remake in Hindi film. Rani and Saif meet on a long overseas flight when both are on their way to overseas schools. He hits on her, she hates it. Years later his mother ends up organizing her wedding, they fight again, but in the end they respect each other a bit. And then finally they meet a third time and she is widowed and he is sincerely kind to her, and they fall in love.
I like this movie, Saif in particular is HILARIOUS, but I don’t think it really gets what When Harry Met Sally is about. It’s not just the costumes and haircuts and time passing, it’s about growing from people who have nothing in common to people who are perfect together. I just don’t feel like their characters are really individuals, I don’t feel that sense of the same people but different as time passes. Ultimately it’s just that Rani is widowed. Saif’s essentially decency makes him treat her kindly and seriously in response, and Rani’s weakness makes her barriers go down. An external event changed their interaction, not their inner lives.
This isn’t necessarily bad. Hum-Tum asks kind of an interesting question with Rani’s widowhood, because it rejects the idea of True Love. Rani and Saif have all these fated meetings over time, they fall in love eventually, blah blah blah. But the film also makes it clear that Rani was happy in her marriage to someone else and, if her husband had not died, she and Saif would never have been a thing. Is it that she had two True Loves? Is it that True Love does not exist? Or, most radical of all, is it that True Love exists but you can also be perfectly happy not with your true love if the timing doesn’t work out? I like this questions, but I miss the question of “what if nothing external really changes and two people just grow to fit together when they are older?”
This is the question that Jab Harry Met Sejal asks. Terrible title in terms of making people actually interested in seeing the movie, but kind of interesting for acknowledging the kind of romance this will be. It’s the same reason Imtiaz’s earlier rom-com was called “Jab We Met”. He likes romances of “love at second-third-fourth sight”. Because really, those are the interesting romances. The ones where there is an immediate spark between two people, but then they have to work to build a solid connection, to dig through the layers of personality they use as protection and find who they are inside and then see who the other person is inside. In Jab We Met, Shahid at first sees Kareena is talkative and spoiled and bossy. But he comes to see that really she is brave, braver than he is. Kareena sees Shahid as a helper, a nice harmless person. But later she comes to see he has a strength inside that is not there among the men who act like they are strong. And Jab Harry Met Sejal takes this idea of two people thrown together who come to slowly see the best parts of each other and brings it even farther.
Let’s go back to When Harry Met Sally for a moment. When they first meet, Harry is a young man who is all about sex and no relationships, no connections, doesn’t even want a friendship. And Sally is all about leaping into connections, forget anything easy or selfish like sex, just think about nice clean relationships. The next time they meet, they have found what they want in life and are happy. Sally has the nice clean relationship she dreamed of (serious boyfriend), and Harry has found the safe simple straightforward connection he wants (rushing into marriage). But when both those relationships fall apart, that is when they are finally forced to look at themselves and their own flaws, and then to be able to forgive flaws in others. Sally sees that she has always been too quick to see the world as simple and straightforward and proper. Harry sees that he has been too quick to reject people, to pretend he didn’t need anyone. And now, FINALLY, they can look at each other and appreciate each other. The magic of their connection, start to finish, is that they were able to see the flaws in the other person (Harry calls Sally out on her too perfect world view, she calls him out on his forced obnoxiousness). But once they have grown to understand that no one is perfect, to accept their own flaws, they can accept the flaws in the other person and start to go beyond it.
The argument of When Harry Met Sally is that this is a journey which happens as you grow up. Which is true, that is definitely a universal truth. There are people I am friend with now who I would never have befriended when I was younger (and vice versa). And there are friends I had when I was younger that I no longer feel like I have anything in common with. Long term friends/couples have the constant miracle of growing into different people who still like each other. And a whole heck of a lot of couples knew each other casually for years and had no interest and then BANG suddenly they fit together.
The argument of Jab Harry Met Sejal is that this journey can be compressed and accelerated in certain situations. Harry and Sejal don’t get to know each other better and fall in love, they each individually go through journeys into being new people, into growing up and dropping away certain parts of their personality, and as they are going on those individual journeys, they “meet” each other over and over again. Until their final meeting, their final selves, who love each other.
Harry and Sejal don’t like each other at all. And then they get to know each other, and themselves, a little better and become friends. And then they change some more and find themselves in love. And finally, the biggest change, they are able to see a future and a way to be together forever, a way this odd couple can match.
Another radical idea from When Harry Met Sally, it’s not just about falling in love, it’s about taking that next step to do something about it. Harry and Sally are best friends, and then they sleep together. And Sally sees that as being in love forever. But Harry gets scared and runs away from it. The big moment isn’t the first kiss, or even the first sex. The big moment is when Harry says “I’m ready, let’s do this, I want this for real”. Harry and Sejal more or less acknowledge that they love each other. But that’s not enough, they have to acknowledge that they see a future together, that this can actually work. The big moment isn’t when they almost have sex, or when he expresses his love to her at the airport. The big moment is when they meet again having both taken their own individual big steps towards a connection.
I wish more love stories could be about this. Not love at first sight, not fighting external obstacles, not stupid misunderstandings, but basic internal conflicts, the magic of two individuals finding a way to come together and overcome the essential differences between any two people.