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EMERYVILLE, Calif. — The trailer for Yash Chopra’s three-hour romantic extravaganza manages to pack in half a dozen explosions, a passionate scene in a London phone booth and a dance duet amid soaring fountains. So it’s tempting to assume that India’s most eagerly awaited film of the year, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, will be silly and overblown.
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But the film, the 80-year-old director-producer’s final project before he died Oct. 21, hits the right notes and delivers not only the romance and human touch that has made Chopra a brand name, but also reflects a modern sensibility: these are characters who have sex before marriage, break their vows to God, and set their own life paths.
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The drawing power of Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma (who costarred with Khan in the charming Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi), combined with a wide Diwali holiday release, will ensure large, appreciative audiences despite competition from actor-producer Ajay Devgn’s broad, crowd-pleasing comedy Son of Sardaar. Devgn unsuccessfully sued Chopra to try to change Jab Tak Hai Jaan’s clashing release date, but his concern seems unnecessary as crowds are bound to discover Sardaar through positive word-of-mouth — there’s room at the multiplex for everybody.
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At 175 minutes, Jab Tak has a story line too lengthy to recap in detail, though it opens with a scene straight out of The Hurt Locker — Indian army explosives expert Samar Anand (Khan), his country’s best bomb defuser, refuses to wear a protective suit and displays an almost pathological lack of fear as he disarms an IED to save his squadron.
Samar seems to be daring God to kill him, and the reason why is revealed in a flashback that takes up the first third of the film: as a struggling Indian immigrant living in London, Samar fell in love with Meera (Kaif), who reciprocated his passion but felt conflicted because of her own devotion to God — whom a jealous Samar scornfully calls “Mr. Jesus.”
Later, working for the Indian army while nursing a broken heart, Samar meets vibrant young journalist Akira (Sharma), who inspires him to be happy — until Samar is felled by that most timeworn of Bollywood film conventions, an accident followed by a case of retrograde amnesia.
Yes, the film has its silly aspects, but audiences willing to suspend disbelief (why does military man Samar have sexily coiffed and moussed hair, even while camping out on a Ladakhi mountaintop; and aren’t those Tibetan Buddhist monks put off by the scantily clad Sharma shaking her behind?) will find much to love.
Chopra, an icon credited with creating many of the most distinctive elements of the Bollywood formula over his 40-film producing-directing career, has collaborated with Khan on more than half a dozen projects. Here, too, Chopra has brought in Oscar winner A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) for some energetic songs, thrillingly choreographed by Vaibhavi Merchant with suprising eroticism.
Sharma is, as always, warm and expressive; while Kaif, though not an acting heavyweight, nevertheless delivers a charismatic and physical performance, especially in a riveting modern dance number set only to pounding drums. Khan is the star folks came to see: his performance, which veers between forced ebullience and convincing vulnerability, is one of the strongest of his career.
Supporting performances are also striking, including Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh and Anupam Kher; and Chopra makes good use of gorgeous locations in Ladakh and London.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan is no Hurt Locker — it’s a flat-out masala film with over-the-top emotions and situations. But its credit list includes both an explosives expert and a choreographer. Beat that, Kathryn Bigelow.
Opened: Nov. 13, 2012
Production company: Yash Raj Films
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Anupam Kher
Director: Yash Chopra
Producer: Aditya Chopra
Executive producer: Aashish Singh
Director of photography: Anil Mehta
Production designer: Sharmishta Roy
Music: A.R. Rahman
Choreographer: Vaibhavi Merchant
Editor: Namrata Rao
Unrated, 175 minutes.
Correction: this review incorrectly identified the name of the lyricist for Jab Tak Hai Jaan, it is Gulzar.
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