Another Generation’s ‘Mr India’: The Genius of ‘Jagga Jasoos’

The grand adventure of Jagga Jasoos was cotton candy for the child in me, writes Ranjib Majumdar. 

6 min read
Katrina and Ranbir in a still from <i>Jagga Jasoos</i>.&nbsp;

It’s been almost a week since Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos hit theatres, and the reactions have been nothing but polarized. If one section found its musical narrative overlong and boring, the other section has gone on to state that this bold and beautiful experiment is the ultimate daring darling.

Before I move into Jagga’s defense, I must concede that some of the criticism against the film is valid.

For example, it could have been tighter, the cohesiveness of the first half doesn’t reflect in the second, especially the idea of Katrina Kaif’s Shruti narrating (lip sync battle, anyone?) the tale in episodes which suddenly gets abandoned.

Then there is the fact that the edit looks rushed as does the unjust, hurried climax. All taken in.

Katrina and Ranbir in a still from <i>Jagga Jasoos</i>.&nbsp;
Katrina and Ranbir in a still from Jagga Jasoos
(Photo courtesy: Disney)

But even if you consider all of the above, Jagga Jasoos manages to overpower. It is that rare Bollywood film that carries head and heart together, something our filmmakers have almost forgotten. If one section takes the audience for granted, dishing out only what the market perception demands, the other makes films with the contempt of Maggie Smith, dehumanizing the very audience it is serving.

Basu’s film is a peace treaty between these two schools of filmmaking. It wishes to entertain while making you curious, it aims to please your heart while your brain is wide awake, and it makes you feel the warmth in our age of indifference.

The film is a musical, joining a mere handful of others in Hindi cinema. And it’s not a musical without a cause, hell, Jagga Jasoos invents a reason to be so. It gives its protagonist (Ranbir Kapoor) such a pronounced stammer that he can only bring the stuttering sleeping words to life by singing them aloud. Basu helps us finds such joy in the musical banter that he turns the most unnecessary part of the story into one of its most unforgettable portions. The song ‘Sab khaana kha ke’ shows what Basu’s musical whimsy is capable of.

The film is also an adventure, the kind that Steven Spielberg aces at, by seeking out the child in every single person within its universe. The last time Hindi cinema attempted such a film was in 2000 with Raju Chacha which fizzled with averageness.

Basu makes his attempt in this tricky terrain, and with it, he subverts little laws of Bollywood.

Jagga Jasoos takes its narrative to little seen corners of Manipur, and when it decides to go abroad, it lands in Africa, far away from the white-skinned Europe. Jagga finding his father in his lover is also a minor mutiny, after all, we are always told men find their mothers in the women they love.

Above all, it brings in a sense of wonder that we have forgotten in the sedative laden sheen of designer clothes and party numbers. Unlike the thrill-seeking films of our cynical times when blood and gore scream with each punch, this film gazes at the world of action through the looking glass of comic books.

Basu’s film is not working miracles at the box office right now, but in time, it will find its audience. If not theatre, it will be on television. At the risk of sounding imprudent, Jagga Jasoos will be another generation’s Mr. India. Granted, Jagga is not as tightly constructed or as emotionally powerful as Mr India, but it is a worthy successor of a film that taught a generation how fantasy and fable can open doors to one’s imagination. The baffled response to a musical narrative might deter audiences from buying a ticket, but when it appears on TV for free viewing, it will find its desired admirers.

A still from <i>Mr India</i>.&nbsp;
A still from Mr India
(Photo courtesy: YouTube Screenshot)
And believe me you, there will a moment of regret at having missed seeing Jagga and his adventures on the big screen, for that’s where he belongs.

I am aware I’ve arrived late to this party, but I am writing this piece because I couldn’t get Jagga out of my head. I was chuckling throughout the proceedings. The Bengali in me was picking up every single one of the Easter eggs that Basu has spread all over Jagga’s world.

While growing up, I always read Tintin and Asterix comics in Anandamela, a monthly magazine in Bengali. I was very fond of Kuttush, the adorable white dog of Tintin.

As I grew up, I discovered that Tintin was not Bengali and his dog was actually called Snowy. My heart was broken alright, but Tintin and Asterix never left my nostalgic past.
Tintin in Bengali.&nbsp;
Tintin in Bengali. 
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

What Jagga Jasoos did was bring back Tintin for me. From the trademark tuft homage to the planes that populated Herge’s comic books, the tale of Jagga is for someone who grew up on those. Basu then goes to include Satyajit Ray’s influence on his framework, from his fanciful children’s films to his detective tales. If both Kaif’s Shruti and Saswata Chatterjee’s Tuti Futi are termed as bad-lucky à la Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Basu sends us to Shundi in Africa which essentially is a fictitious magical kingdom that exists only in Ray’s world. You also get a knife thrower to amp up the tension and quirkiness, straight from Joi Baba Felunath.

A still from <i>Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne</i>.
A still from Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube Screenshot)

You get Tiktiki which is lizard in Bengali and a slang term for private detectives, and a range of hotels as Agapashtala, which made me guffaw because it is an expression used by Bengalis to mean ‘without head or tail’. If Subhash Chandra Bose looms large, you also get Rabindranath Tagore’s Shonar Tori (The Golden Boat) being recited at a prayer meet. Eggs, so many, so many to pick up.

If I’m reading it right, Basu is a man searching for his home within his films. If his last film Barfi took us to the east of India with demonstrative warmth, in Jagga, we are there again, even deeper in Northeast, with its sights and sounds.

Both Barfi and Jagga Jasoos were conceived in a dream that spoke Bengali. Both carry the magical lens of Jean-Pierre Jeunet which turns tragedy into events of humour and colour. But above all, both carry a strong yearning for a home left behind. The path of his childhood and the road of his adulthood have an affinity for each other to intersect in Basu’s films, and in doing so, he wants his entire cinematic world to evoke the sense of home, in images and feelings. Objectively, Jagga Jasoos has many flaws, but it evoked a sense of joy I rarely experience in Hindi cinema these days.

For a migrant in Mumbai for more than a decade, Jagga Jasoos took me back to the days when my joyous self was more powerful than the dormant cynical self which would embrace me tightly in maturity.

The sense of detailing in frames, the cartoonish leap of faith, and the giddiness of the grand adventure of Jagga was a cotton candy for the child in me and the imagination it once carried. When a film does this to me, this feeling, at an enormous remoteness from reason and rationality, is far more precious than objective perfection.

In Jagga’s world, I am home.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise; he tweets @RanjibMazumder)

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