JAB TAK HAI JAAN

(Delite and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

He is no more with us but Yash Chopra’s dialogue with God continues. It started with Waqt , intensified with Deewar and culminates here now. Yes, on the surface it is the trademark Yash Chopra love triangle, gilded at the edges, but beneath it is an uneasy battle between the believer and the pragmatist for truth. Made for the “faithful”, no wonder his protagonist is called Samar (war). At one end is Meera, a God-fearing girl whom we usually bracket as conservative/old world, and on the other is Akira, who describes herself as hard-core and whom we put in the free-spirited/realistic category these days.

Is the name a comment on the Kurosawas of today! Both want to win Samar or, in other words, want to arrive at the middle ground, and in the process we experience a quiet tussle between love and reason. Of course you require suspension of disbelief. Of course you have to deal with lazy stereotypes like a Pakistani Muslim friend. Of course you have to ignore the poetic licence that Chopra flaunts at will, but once you surrender to his picture postcard universe, Shah Rukh Khan ensures there is no bump in this almost three-hour-long ride.

The film comes at a time when a new wave is blowing across the industry which has rendered the likes of Chopra as old school but here Chopra shows how he could sneak in telling lessons in his gossamer reality. How he could whip up emotional frenzy out of designer moments. Or simply put, the film underscores why his brand of cinema survived all these years. At one point, when Akira shows Samar’s story to her boss at Discovery Channel, she says she has brought tears in the eyes of a bitch. Perhaps she is speaking for many among us who have given up on faith.

In true Yash Raj tradition of eternal romance, Samar, a good-hearted Indian migrant in London who makes the ends meet by shovelling snow and serving guests at a restaurant, falls in love with a rich Samaritan Meera. He makes her aware of her wild side and she tells him what it means to believe in Him. When Samar gets hit by a bus, Meera pleads with Jesus that if he survives she won’t see him again. Sounds silly? Indeed! But what follows is exciting. Samar takes on God.

Cut to Ladakh. Samar is in Army fatigues and defusing bombs without donning the safety uniform. For ten years he has been challenging God and in the process earning the sobriquet of a man who cannot die. Is it his talent or his trust in his love? We have stopped asking such questions long ago but Chopra traverses the terrain with gusto and makes us believe in the magic of mush all over again.

In comes Akira, who gets to read Samar’s diary and finds his love story just so compelling but ultimately gets drawn to his courage, his passion. When writers Aditya Chopra and Devika Bhagat bring out the good old memory loss tool to sort out matters, one thought the Chopras had lost the plot but they use the dated device with a refreshing twist and have an actor to pull it off.

Shah Rukh gets the sur of the subject right and plays the avatars of guitar-wielding romantic and the rugged army guy with the assurance of a veteran and for once manages to delineate the two sides of one character. It is he who makes the film fly over the pitfalls of ridiculous creative liberties as Samar’s two interviews to Akira lend the film the jaan that the title talks about.

Anushka repeats her lively, bubbly act but makes Akira eminently convincing.

It is Katrina who strikes the odd notes. Her part is crucial for making us believe in the plot but she continues to rely on her looks to do the talking. She continues to remain a mystery even when the role demands a big dose of persuasion.

Taking the cue from Samar, it’s overdone -- but good fun nonetheless.

SON OF SARDAAR

(Golcha and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

For a film peddled as a laugh riot, Son of Sardaar turns out to be a progeny of a jester who recycles his lame gags with conviction thinking he would be able to fool the audience in the festive mood.

It gathers steam for a few moments and then languishes into a stream of insipid stereotypes like a joker joining two threes to make an eight. Based on the premise of the silent Hollywood film Our Hospitality which was successfully interpreted by Telugu film-maker S. S. Rajamouli in Maryada Ramanna , it features Ajay Devgn as the happy-go-lucky Sardar boy Jassi who returns to his homeland to sell his father’s property not realising that he is getting into a longstanding family feud between his Randhawa clan and the Sandhu family. Before Sandhus could figure out his lineage, Jassi, inadvertently, becomes a guest in Sandhu mansion ruled by a gentle giant Ballu (Sanjay Dutt).

Soon his secret tumbles out but Jassi hangs by the skin of his teeth because the Sandhus have a tradition whereby they don’t shed the blood of a guest in the premises of their household.

Director Ashwini Dhir has a way with guest stories as he proved in Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge but here he is out of his depth as such shallow capers are a different ball game. Jassi’s stay in the Sandhu household becomes so overstretched that before Sandhus could get him you feel like kicking him out. The punch line promises that vengeance is funny but it turns out to be agonising.

Only those situations work which are copied from the Telugu original like the gag in the running train.

The action sequences remind you of Tom & Jerry as human bodies fly around like rubber dolls. It is not the Punjab of Chopras or Johars or Anurag Kashyap. Dhir has created a cartoonish cardboard of the lively State. In fact he has used animation to present the animated behaviour in good humour. But if the idea is to mount a surfeit of silliness, why invoke religious sentiments by playing “Wahey Guru!” in the background or bringing Sikh pride into play. By the time Jassi asserts you can make jokes on Sikhs but don’t consider them as joker, he begins to sound like a caricature.

Ajay Devgn overdoes the comic act. His facial contortions range somewhere between ridiculous and ludicrous. Mukul Dev shows how to be credible in such dumb ventures and Sanjay Dutt plays to the gallery.

Apart from some novelty in writing, the film required a true blue comic actor to carry off the outlandish subject and perhaps that’s why Rajamouli opted for Sunil, an actor known for his comic prowess, over an action star in Maryada Ramanna.

Here Ajay has too much image baggage to shed to play a lion in a sheep’s clothing. So when he finally muscles his way out we feel that he could have done it one hour before. In fact, it is the daughters of sardars—played by Sonakshi Sinha and Juhi Chawla – who have got the measure of the film consistently right. They keep you interested when the big boys fail to deliver the punch.

If you are a son of sardar you will find it phoney and if you are not you might feel unwanted.

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