It is astonishing that in an industry (Hindi film – better known as Bollywood) where films without songs are an anomaly, very, very few films actually employ songs to drive the narrative, let alone try a musical: where songs are not only organic to the story but also embody the essence of the world the characters of the musical inhabit. In fact, song and dance go so hand in hand with Hindi films (true for all Indian films) that in the west or for that matter any part of the world where these films are seen (and loved) it is taken for granted that they are all musicals. Which is far from the truth.
Well, Jagga Jasoos, the newest offering from director Anurag Basu, is here to give the audience a taste of what a musical is like; it is the only attempt at the genre ‘I’ remember since Jaan-e-Mann (2006), which again is not the best of examples. Jagga Jasoos tries and does well, but unfortunately only till the first act, after which it is a long way downhill only to catch my interest again (I’ll talk about it later in the review)! SPOILERS ahead!
The film opens with a delightful shot of rural Purulia (in 1995 or so) and introduces us to Bagchi (played excellently by Saswata Chaterjee) aka Tutti Futti and Badluck Bagchi, whose status as the mascot of bad luck results in a classic goof up that sets the ball in motion. Then jump to present day Kolkata Book Fair where Katrina Kaif’s character, the narrator, introduces children to the books (I believe comics because that would be an obvious nod to Tintin) of Jagga Jasoos (Ranbir Kapoor), the eponymous hero. She takes the young fans down the memory lane of Jagga, a stammering orphan who is adopted by a kind and goofy man, Bagchi, who give him lessons for life (including sing-your-speech-to-stop-stammer lesson) and then mysteriously disappearing, abandoning him at a boarding school. At school Jagga develops a knack for detective work largely because he was shy enough to be alone and curious enough to make 2+2=4. Then voila! all of a sudden he’s all popular in school, confident and Sherlock-smart, while being shy and awkward only at the convenience of the script. Numerous things follow: he meets a journalist, Shruti (Katrina Kaif), stumbles on an arms trade trail, finds connection between the dissapearance of his foster-father and the arms trade plot point, goes on a quest to find him. Too much happening to give a damn about.
There are plenty of characters minor, major and numerous story threads and a lot of back and forth non-linear narrative stuff, which I kind of liked and I think worked for the movie because it is a movie about a sleuth and, let us face it, with a linear approach the plot with so many threads to follow would have resulted in a snoozefest. The movie takes a lot of time setting up things, too much time even for origin-story standards. Yet it is this part that I enjoyed the most in the movie. Jagga, in between flashbacks, solves two cases in the first act and these are staged amazingly to music and lyrics. I would have preferred these two cases to make up the whole movie instead of using them as a set up for something grand, which sadly doesn’t materialize. The next act that follows seems tired, with absolutely no steam left in it barring a few moments of fun (few being “Sab Daru Pi Ke Khaana Kha Ke Chale Gaye” song and Saurabh Shukla’s villianous turn).
Another problem with this film is that while all the other actors perform really well, Katrina Kaif manages to mess up scenes which would otherwise have been fun to watch. This has been said a lot of time, I know, but my problem is not with Katrina’s performance alone, it is the casting choice that bothers me. I think she was a miscast as Shruti here and it really affected the whole experience of the movie. Besides her character was very underdeveloped as the rest of the characters in the movie, even Jagga’s. The only character arc Shruti completes is turning from a damsel in distress to a sidekick (who is the butt of most of the slapstick ridicules in the movie) and losing all interest in her quest to expose the arms dealers (for goodness’ sake! they killed her boyfriend! and there is also something called love for profession), letting the man of the movie, Jagga’s quest the centre stage. Really sad!
The globetrotting adventure that follows in the second act is beautiful to look at, as was the choice of settings in India, with lush greens of Assam and Purulia to the sands of Africa. Beautiful cinematography! However, this picturesqueness, our ‘good-looking’ lead pair and really good performances from Ranbir Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Saswata, and Rajatava Dutta, and some genuinely amazing moments fail to lift this overlong, unnecessarily convoluted film with underdeveloped characters from an average affair to an exceptional piece of film, which it had the potential to be had the producers been more confident of the movie and not crammed so much in one movie. Could have explored the character and his adventures in sequels, which this movie hints at. I would so go and watch the sequel despite the uneven experience with this one because it is revealed at the end that Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the main bad guy, who is polycephalic, and has kidnapped Jagga and his father. Talk about cliffhangers! Move over Bahubali!