Imtiaz Ali’s last directorial Jab Harry Met Sejal did not live up to the expectations at the Box Office. The over hyped film starring Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma tanked at the Box Office and also got poor reviews from critics. Many said the film lacked the elements of Imtiaz’s storytelling and characters were also half baked. More than Shah Rukh’s acting, it was Anushka’s role of a Gujarati girl, Sejal, which received the critics’ ire.
Many said the character was half baked and lacked the depth which is usually found in Imtiaz Ali’s films. More so, it was a little jarring the way Sejal sought validation from Harry and kept questioning herself if she was ‘layak’. On one occasion, Sejal also says, “Main toh wo wali aurat hun hi nai jo apne fiance ko chod ke tour guide ke saath bhaag jaaye”, when Harry asks if she is prepared to become ghatiya aurat. Her constant need for validation, coupled with her statements distanced Sejal from the viewers, many finding it unrelatable.
Defending Sejal, Imtiaz Ali said:
I feel that when girls grow up, they, through some ways that are not even nice, get to know about their worth in terms of a physical being – whether they are attractive, beautiful, sexy and so on. And even now, there aren’t any ways where a girl can know if she is attractive to a man. For Anushka’s character, she meets a man who she doesn’t know and is not going to spend a lifetime with, or so she thinks. And he’s honest about talking about himself and so she decides to ask him about her latent insecurities – which are about the way she appears.
He went on:
For a woman, in any society, and especially Indian, if there’s some reflection of being a bad woman, it becomes problematic. So Harry is asking Sejal if she’s prepared to face the wrath for her desire to be with Harry. As Rumi says, you have to keep your hands clean but you have to keep your feet dirty, to reach where you have to.
A look at Imtiaz’s statements and it won’t be difficult to understand his reasoning. What Imtiaz did was portray the woman’s id, that she wished to know how pretty she was and that she needed validation from a man. Sejal kept asking Harry about how she scored on the sexy scale, and if she could ever be more than ‘sister-type’. However, according to Imtiaz, Sejal’s character is not at all linear. Throughout the film, she did not surrender herself to her feelings for Harry and rather gave the latter enough chances to reciprocate. But when Harry failed to do so, Sejal did not felt that her life had come to an end, rather returned home quite oblivious to the thought if whether Harry would ever come back or not.
The part where Imtiaz reasoned that Sejal wanted to know about her sex appeal from whom she thought would remain a stranger, also holds ground. Soon after Sejal met Harry, she bombarded him with personal queries. She never got the kind of attention which she sought from her fiance which is why she asked Harry to enact romantic feelings as if he was her fiance.
As much as critics blatantly panned Sejal’s character, she managed to reflect the thoughts of a quintessential girl who is stripped of a basic human need – acceptance. Food for thought!
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