Saturday Features

Madcap misfire

  • Although whimsical to the max, and practically bursting at the seams with creative energy—not to mention, employing the full force of Ranbir Kapoor’s charms—Jagga Jasoos is ultimately let down by an overly-busy, scatterbrained script
- OBIE SHRESTHA, Kathmandu
So much attention has been lavished on the visuals that none seems to have been left for the story and plotting…and though the novelty of the musical format appeals, and some moments are inspired, it doesn’t feel organic or go smoothly all the time

Jul 22, 2017-If you enjoyed Barfi! as much as I did, you’ll no doubt have been looking forward to the new Jagga Jasoos, a project that reunites director Anurag Basu and actor Ranbir Kapoor for the first time since their 2012 outing. Unfortunately, going in with such high hopes also means you’re bound to be even more disappointed with what you find here. For, although whimsical to the max, and practically bursting at the seams with creative energy—not to mention employing the full force of Kapoor’s charms—Jagga Jasoos is ultimately let down by an overly-busy, scatterbrained script that never truly comes together as a coherent whole. What we have, then, is a beautiful mess of a film, all the more regrettable for what one can very clearly see it could’ve been with a touch of restraint and focus.

Young Jagga (Saravajeet Tiwari) has become something of a permanent fixture at the hospital where he had been left as a baby, following the passing of his parents, raised thereafter by the staff on the premises. Jagga also has a speech impediment that makes it difficult for him to communicate, and leads a rather lonely existence, until the day he hauls in an injured man (Saswata Chatterjee) he encounters on one of his walks. “Tooty-Phooty”, as the patient calls himself, takes almost instantly to Jagga, and slowly coaxes him out of his shell—teaching him, for instance, to sing when his stammer gets bad, a trick that proves vital in allowing the boy to express himself. Before long, Tooty-Phooty has adopted Jagga and taken him home, and our little hero finally feels like he belongs somewhere.

But that happiness is short-lived. Tooty-Phooty suddenly heads out on some unknown assignment, after dropping Jagga off at a local boarding school, and is never heard from again—aside from the yearly video tapes he sends to the boy on his birthday, full of life lessons and good wishes. And so little Jagga has grown up (now played by Ranbir Kapoor), and—thanks in part to the many unanswered questions surrounding his own background and that of Tooty-Phooty that have been swirling in him all these years—has acquired a taste for sleuthing, solving the odd mystery around school and town every now and then. But when his birthday rolls around, and for the first time ever, the postman has no video from Tooty-Phooty for him, and clues begin to surface indicating the man might have been involved in some sort of illegal arms racket, Jagga decides it’s time for him to go out and find his father, wherever in the world he might be. Luckily, he has made a friend in the form of visiting investigative reporter Shruti (Katrina Kaif), who might be able to help him with unraveling the case—which soon comes to involve a wide, thoroughly exhausting journey across the world, travelling by plane, train, jeep and even ostrich, winding through circuses, Burmese forests, the African savannah and much, much more.

There is little question that it’s in the visuals that Jagga Jasoos shines most. Basu and his team have gone all out; there is so much artful detail and quirky flair on display here that you’ll be hard-pressed to take it all in in one go. Much as they did in Barfi!, Basu, cinematographer Ravi Varman, and art director Parijat Poddar have together managed to create an almost-insulated world that has a hint of the surreal, even the magical, in it, but still bears plausible resemblance to the one we live in. The film boasts aesthetic inventiveness in spades—whether it’s the clever transitions between scenes, the show-within-a-show element, and other nice little creative touches throughout—successfully pulling off that story-book feel it’s clearly aiming for. 

The problem is, however, that so much attention has been lavished on these visual flourishes that the plotting and the story itself almost feel like afterthoughts. The pacing is absolutely relentless, so much happening all at once that you long for a little break from the noise and movement just to digest what’s happening. And a note on the format: while those of us who’ve grown up watching South Asian films are no strangers to song-and-dance sequences, Jagga Jasoos is more of an out-and-out musical in a distinctly Broadway-esque style. And though the novelty appeals, and some moments are inspired—the proceedings of an investigation covered in song, for instance, or a cheeky party ditty—it doesn’t feel organic or go smoothly all the time. Indeed, there are occasions when, head already pounding from the wall-to-wall score by Pritam, upon witnessing Jagga bursting into tune in yet another attempt to circumvent his stammer, you just want to tell him to can it.

Of course, I realise Jagga Jasoos is targeted primarily at a much younger demographic than I might be qualified to speak for, but it feels too manic even by those kiddie-cartoon standards. And while it does pay lip service to not underestimating the intelligence of audiences—there’s a whole song devoted to letting young viewers in on real-world problems—the film’s own treatment of such issues is cosmetic at best to begin with. Add to that the fact that the makers felt they had to repeat a number of scenes in their entirety just to establish fairly obvious points, which can be a bit insulting, not to mention how these add to the already protracted run-time. 

Still, if anyone could’ve saved Jagga Jasoos, Kapoor would have been it. There are few young actors in popular Indian cinema of his caliber today, and these oddball characters make for a particularly good fit for him. And he certainly gives this role his all—he really has no choice, given the added responsibility he bears of having to compensate for his lacklustre co-star, Kaif, who is as stiff and unnatural as ever. Second to Kapoor, Chatterjee is another notable in the cast, convincing as the solid, paternal figure with a mysterious past. I wish Basu had thought to focus on this father-son track rather than get so very distracted by all the frills—it would’ve made for a much more moving, emotionally-involving experience. 

Yes, Jagga Jasoos is certainly unique and like nothing Bollywood has offered up so far. But there’s a certain contrived quality to the eccentricity here, and characters don’t have the same heft they did in Barfi!, seemingly designed to be quirky for quirk’s sake, rather than growing logically out of the story itself. I’d recommend giving Jagga Jasoos a watch on the big screen, if only to see this brave new world Basu and his gang have so painstakingly sketched out for us. Be warned, though: You might not want to stay in it too long.

reel run

1.5/5

Jagga Jasoos

Director: Anurag Basu

Actors: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Saswata Chatterjee

Genre: Musical action-adventure

Published: 22-07-2017 11:33

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