For the first ninety minutes or so, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is vintage Yash Chopra: catchy songs, glamorous locations, and Shahrukh Khan executing another smoldering performance. Things fall apart after the intermission break, and the film spirals into absurdity for its final ninety minutes. It’s hard to imagine being more disappointed.
The story begins as ultra-cool soldier Samar Anand (Khan) diffuses a bomb in a Ladakh market before saving a bikini-clad young woman (Anushka Sharma) from an icy lake, leaving his jacket with her. The woman, Akira, finds Samar’s journal in the jacket pocket. Reading it, she discovers that Samar wasn’t always the gruff soldier he is today.
A prolonged flashback to ten years earlier shows Samar working odd jobs in London, supplementing his income busking on the streets. He becomes smitten with a beautiful Indian woman (Katrina Kaif) he overhears praying to Jesus to bless her with a handsome Anglo husband, and not a boring Indian one. Samar and the woman, Meera, form a bond as he teaches her to sing in Punjabi and she teaches him to speak English.
Since Jab Tak Hai Jaan is nearly three hours long, Samar and Meera can’t get their happily-ever-after so early in the movie. Meera makes another promise to Jesus that hinges on her never seeing Samar again. That’s where Samar’s journal ends.
The unfolding of Samar’s and Meera’s doomed romance is the best part of the story. Khan is so handsome and suave, it’s possible to believe he really could charm all of London with his singing and intermittent guitar strumming. Yash Chopra gives Kaif a solo dance number that allows her to have the spotlight to herself, and she shines during the opportunity. Also, her body is amazing.
When events in the story return to the present, the whole film goes south. Akira, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, returns Samar’s journal and finagles her way into being embedded with his army unit on an assignment for the Discovery Channel. Her motive is allegedly to understand how Samar’s past influenced his refusal to wear protective gear when disarming bombs, but she really wants to make him forget about Meera and fall in love with her.
Sharma is as winsome and adorable as ever, but her character is an idiot. In addition to her moronic romantic plot, her lack of professionalism nearly gets her killed while following the bomb squad around, for whom she serves as a hybrid kid sister/sex object.
Things only get stupider from here. Writer Aditya Chopra resorts to the laziest of all possible storytelling clichés: amnesia. Aditya doubles down on the stupidity by alleging that retrograde amnesia can be cured by allowing the friends and family of the amnesiac to invent and play out a fictitious alternative life story for the patient to fill in the lost years, rather than just telling the patient the truth.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan‘s dumbest moment comes when the London police department allows Samar to disarm a bomb because “this guy just might know what he’s talking about.” Next time I’m in London, I’ll be sure to ask the cops what other dangerous matters of national security they farm out to random foreign civilians. Sounds like fun!
I’m not sure how the plot got so out of hand. Aditya Chopra is a better writer than this, and it’s unfortunate that this is Yash Chopra’s last film. The candid behind-the-scenes shots of the director that accompany the closing credits are the real highlights of Jab Tak Hai Jaan.