At first, we think it’s empty hero-giri. Samar (Shah Rukh Khan), a classic loner, is not with the others of his bomb-defusing team, one of whom struggles to make sense of the tangle of wires in an explosive device at a Leh marketplace. Samar rides in on his motorbike alone, a little later, and when he gets to work, an onlooker remarks that he will not wear a bomb suit. After all, he hasn’t worn one while defusing close to 100 bombs thus far – a record, which fetches him the title The Man who Cannot Die. More remarks follow that build Samar up, in our eyes, as some sort of outrageous superhero. The onlooker says, “Iski aankhon mein aaj tak maut ka dar nahin dekha,” that he’s never seen in Samar’s eyes the fear of death, and he adds that Samar walks up to explosive devices as if walking into a girlfriend’s arms. It all seems to be little but empty hero-giri, the kind of image-stoking, ego-massaging scenario that every big star writes into his contract.
But slowly we see that Samar is no reckless hero, that he has a death wish, that he’s really The Man who Wants to Die. For love, naturally. Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan (co-written by Aditya Chopra) is something of a companion piece to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (which the younger Chopra directed). Here too, we’re treated to two flavours of Shah Rukh Khan – one silent and withdrawn, one the exuberant embodiment of life itself. Here too, we have Anushka Sharma, playing a Discovery Channel filmmaker named Akira, torn between these two personas – except that, this time, she falls for the introvert. And here too, the big guy up in the sky plays a pivotal part. This time, though, it’s a different god, one who hangs on a crucifix and whom Samar refers to as Sir Jesus. In other words, we’re watching Christ Ne Bana Di Jodi, which could be the title of the translation of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair.
That’s where this film’s plot comes from – at least, a portion of it. But the changes weaken this adaptation. Instead of saving the crucial revelation for the end, which is how we realise how much love there was, we’re clued in to the fact as it happens. And while the heroine of the novel was a married woman, and therefore had more to lose, Meera (Katrina Kaif) is merely engaged to an Englishman named Roger, whom she calls “a really nice guy.” (Translation: he doesn’t stand a chance.) But most puzzlingly, we’re never clued in to why this Punjabi girl worships at the altar of Jesus. We are all free to choose our own deliverers, of course, but wouldn’t it have helped to show how this bond was forged in the first place? (The novel’s Catholic guilt, on the other hand, is instantly understandable.) All we see is Meera transacting with Sir Jesus: “Give me this, and I’ll give up that.” It sounds like child’s play, not a deep-rooted belief system. And how does Samar – someone who does odd jobs in London before becoming a waiter at a restaurant – join the army and turn into a bomb expert? Continue reading