By Poulomi Das Aug. 05, 2017
Imtiaz Ali’s Sejal sets off on a journey to achieve a socially acceptable level of fuckability and ultimately becomes an extremely worrying case of self-objectification.
Ican imagine how the story of Jab Harry Met Sejal must have started out. Let’s make a film about a young girl’s naivety and fresh innocence crashing into an older man’s world-weariness and do our manic-pixie-dream-girl thing while we’re at it. But somehow, a couple of years later, the film that came out veered so dangerously off course that it fell straight into the heart of all of Europe’s travel clichés.
Jab Harry Met Sejal, the much-touted release of the ever-wistful Imtiaz Ali, is a Europe tourism film, masquerading as the story of what happens when a young girl’s aspirational urban sluttiness aka her capability of being “laayak” crashes into the sexual disinterest of a man old enough to be her father.
Aspirational urban sluttiness is not a new thing. It is all around us in the world of Tinder. We hear it from our friends who chase sexy like the Holy Grail; we see it in Facebook profile pictures of ducky pouts; we see it in drunken conversations overheard in busy bars. We get it. We all want to be sexy. But the problem is that Anushka Sharma’s version of sexy manifests itself in so many perplexing forms throughout this wasteland of an ageing SRK’s ego, that it ultimately becomes an extremely worrying case of self-objectification.
It starts off with her taking Harry’s (which in a grating Gujju accent is “Hairy”) comment of “nice, sweet, sister si” girl as a dreaded insult with the exact same reaction as if he’d told her she has herpes. From here on begins Sejal’s brave battle against this death knell to her identity as a desirable woman, as she sets off to prove in no uncertain terms to Harry that she possesses a socially acceptable level of fuckability. A noble goal for a young girl in 2017.
Anushka Sharma’s Sejal is just a hot woman with a jarring Gujarati accent. Image Credit / Red Chillies Entertainment
Anushka Sharma’s Sejal is just a hot woman with a jarring Gujarati accent.
Image Credit / Red Chillies Entertainment
And it is on this one goal, that Sejal’s entire character is built. Imtiaz Ali has refused to grant Sejal any more depth or nuance. Her lack of internal conflict, absence of personality, and even a smidgen of interiority is glaring, especially since it comes from a man who even while focusing on the coming of age of his male protagonists, has always granted his women leads intelligence and empathy, if nothing else. Sejal has nothing. She is not good or sweet or intelligent or informed or funny or accomplished or empathetic. She is just a hot woman with a jarring Gujarati accent who will get her life’s validation only by being the object of an uncomfortably older man’s sexual approval.
Sejal’s manic-pixie-dream-girl-on-steroids avatar is all the more infuriating because it comes from an otherwise soulful Imtiaz Ali.
Sejal faithfully goes about chasing this elusive sexiness that she blindly believes will solve all the problems in the world, including global warming. She does it by visiting nightclubs in foreign countries, and attempting to dance seductively, while simultaneously asking profound questions like “Kyun main sexy nahin hoon?” in the face of Harry’s denial. Between all this pole dancing, Sejal also finds time to continue her commitment to Rupen, her fiancé, even as she treats the task of getting Harry to want to have sex with her with the gravity of the Binomial Theorem. By this point, the film becomes such a frantic search for the magical potion of fuckability, instead of a search for her engagement ring that a more apt name for it would have been Jab Harry Almost Fucked Sejal.
But Sejal’s turn as the obsessed, tone-deaf damsel in distress reaches a crescendo in a problematic scene when Harry tells her that she is more “laayak” than the hot pole dancer they run into. What follows is a lengthy ogling session, scrutinising every body part of said pole dancer before launching into several selfies with her for comparison, and Sejal subsequently pole dancing the night away in the room as if to award herself for finally achieving the fuckable degree.
Sejal treats the task of getting Harry to want to have sex with her with the gravity of the Binomial Theorem. Image Credit / Red Chillies Entertainment
Sejal treats the task of getting Harry to want to have sex with her with the gravity of the Binomial Theorem.
Image Credit / Red Chillies Entertainment
Sejal’s manic-pixie-dream-girl-on-steroids avatar is all the more infuriating because it comes from an otherwise soulful Imtiaz Ali, the man who created some of the most sensitive scenes in Indian cinema. But Ali’s quest to recapture Jab We Met’s Geet, the desi manic-pixie incarnate, who despite her whimsical personality, and “must teach young men to embrace life and its mysteries” duties, triggered something of a national frenzy. He followed Geet up with Tara in Tamasha, displaying his prowess at adding nuance to his women protagonists, despite their inherent manic-pixie garnish, even if he did falter with a rather unlikeable Heer in Rockstar.
But it has now been 10 years since Jab We Met, and sadly, much of Imtiaz Ali’s elusive quest to recreate Geet has been as futile as Sejal’s quest for her meaningless ring. It has been stretched to its limits with Sejal, a manic pixie dream girl who runs so hard and so fast across the spectrum of possibility that she abruptly kills herself.
But perhaps it is time Imtiaz Ali, like all great creators, learnt to kill his darlings. Rest in peace, manic pixie dream girl. Your job here is done.
Edited by Sharan Saikumar
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.