Something I have learned about myself during my several years of watching Hindi movies is that I actually like pure love stories. I'm content to watch a movie whose only plot point is how - not even whether - the principals will get together. As long as the movie is well made, the characters enjoyable to spend time with, and the pairing adequately motivated, a romance alone can be enough to hold my interest. Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met ("when we met") is such a movie. It doesn't have any cricket matches, or any goonda seeking redemption. It is largely unburdened by broader themes, like communalism, independence, or justice, that often distinguish masala films. And yet, it's an engaging and sweet romance between two likeable people - and for that alone, a solidly entertaining movie.
Aditya Kashyap (Shahid Kapoor) is a depressed, disaffected executive, the heir to his late father's huge but ailing industrialist empire. In a suicidal funk, Aditya one day walks out of a business meeting and just keeps going. He boards a train out of Bombay, with the seeming intention - to the extent he even has one - to leap to his death once the train hits speed in the countryside. A kinetic young passenger, Geet (Kareena Kapoor), accosts him with a wall of chatter, and unwittingly saves his life. Aditya escorts Geet to her family's home in Punjab, where her enormous, lively family takes him for her paramour. But Geet confesses to Aditya that she intends to elope with a fellow she met in Shimla. Aditya again hits the road with Geet, this time taking her to the Himachal Pradesh hill station Manali, to her Anshuman (Tarun Arora). Along the way, Geet's vivacity touches Aditya - he falls in love, but willingly leaves her to a happy life with Anshuman. Revived and inspired by Geet's moxie, he returns to his business and dives in with renewed vigor, setting the company back on track. Soon, though, Aditya learns that things between Geet and Anjuman haven't gone as planned. He sets off on another journey to find out what happened to Geet, and to help her set her life on a better course, as she helped him.
Jab We Met draws on well-worn, even tired, romance elements. There is nothing new in the story of a garrulous young woman wearing down the reserve of a long-suffering man. The boisterous Punjabi family, full of strapping men equally eager to protect their womenfolk as to break into a bhangra, is another time-worn filmi trope. Jab We Met does not exactly offer a fresh take on these themes, but it does present them with enough craft to make their very familiarity engaging, like cinematic comfort food.
And Jab We Met is not entirely without originality. Geet's uncompromising independence is a fairly uncommon feature in a Hindi romantic heroine. I have seen its like before largely in movies that are close adaptations of western romances, like Pyar to hona hi tha, or Chori chori. In those movies, the heroines have no family to speak of - their independence is wrought from necessity. Geet, though, does have very a strong bond with her family. She is on her own because she wants to be, because she feels a compelling drive to write her own destiny. As she explains to Aditya in a thoughtful moment, Geet will be happy in life so long as she makes her own choices - even if she makes mistakes, they will be her mistakes. This self-claimed autonomy gives Geet an unexpected depth in an otherwise by-the-numbers story, and is the greatest distinguishing strength of Jab We Met.
A character like Geet presents Imtiaz Ali with a tough challenge. How do you make Geet's effusive (and often annoying) prattling get under Aditya's skin without also driving the audience to distraction? It's guaranteed by the script that Aditya is eventually charmed by it, but the same cannot be said for the rest of us. Ali puts his actors to work walking this fine line, and while the balance ultimately comes out in the right place for me, I can't say with conviction that it would for everyone. Kareena Kapoor seem a divisive star - I know many who positively hate her as an actor. But she handles Geet well, toning it down when necessary to let some thoughtfulness or vulnerability show through. Shahid Kapoor, too, proves his acting chops in key moments. When Aditya leaves Geet in Manali with Anshuman, Shahid delivers a smile that is warm and sincere, and yet tinged with sadness. It is a fairly subtle expression, and Shahid nails it.
As a final word, Jab We Met turns out to be a great movie to see as I get ready for my first trip to India in just a couple of weeks - its many road sequences deliver loads of lovely travel scenery that just make my heart race in anticipation. From the Punjab to Himachal Pradesh and back again, there are soaring mountainscapes, idyllic fields, and supreme local color. A highlight is Kareena's song "Yeh ishq hai", shot in Manali and packed with fascinating Tibetan dancers in gorgeous festival costumes.