Jaadugar Movie Review
Jaadugar, Netflix India's latest original film, is a very perplexing picture in whichever way you slice it. For starters, it's the debut film from Posham Pa Pictures, the new production business founded by the original TVF team. Following an internal reorganisation, some of the key creative minds that helped shape TVF into what it is today left to form their own company. Jaadugar, directed by Sameer Saxena and written by Biswapati Sarkar, is the first feature film from that new business. Biswapati Sarkar, Nidhi Bisht, Amit Golani, Sameer Saxena, and Saurabh Khanna are members of the same core creative team that brought you, to name a few, Humorously Yours, Yeh Meri Family, Permanent Roommates, Tripling, and the first seasons of Kota Factory, Hostel Daze, and Panchayat.
Jaadugar performs better as a mystery thriller than as a light, feel-good coming-of-age romantic comedy with sports. There are also a few puzzles to complete here. First, how and why did these tried and true skilled storytellers make a film like this? What were their intentions? Then there's the mystery of why anyone thought a three-hour slow-burn light comedy on Netflix would be a good idea. Or, what exactly is the storyline?
It's about a magician who must choose between his hatred of football and his love for a woman. Or perhaps a reluctant footballer torn between his passion for magic and his real love? Or perhaps a sweetheart who must choose between magic and football? Three hours of "pick a card, any card, no not that card, oh wait that's a yellow card, no it's a red card" to eventually print a wedding card. Basically, somewhere in the Posham Pa Pictures office is a whiteboard with a Venn diagram with the phrases "football," "stage magic," and "love story" scrawled on it, and this screenplay was created from the bizarre impossible intersection of these words.
The story of Jaadugar takes place in the little village of Neemuch. In the film's scenario, it's a football-crazed community that produces the majority of national-level players. We're told that some people believe it's where Maradonna is secretly from. Meenu (Jitendra Kumar) was born into a football household. His late father, as well as his uncle Pradeep (a dependable but aimless Jaaved Jaaferi, here armed with an incomprehensible stutter), were all football heroes. Meenu, understandably, feels immense pressure to follow in their footsteps and join his uncle's team in the local football tournament. (Imagine every legendary TVF young-person-forced-into-engineering scenario, except instead of engineering, it's football). But Meenu needs it. He despises the game and believes it cost him his father's life. (It's worth noting here that, contrary to popular belief, Meenu is a bad player). Instead, as an amateur stage magician, his hobbies are performance and dazzlement.
The film's first act (which is also its most enjoyable) establishes a lovely, likeable universe of humour and affection. We are not sure when it happened, but sometime along the way, it becomes evident that the film has yet to learn where it's heading. Or it's fine with the concept of it going everywhere. We was with it till it introduced Disha, the new pretty doctor in town who becomes Meenu's object of affection (a self-assured Arushi Sharma who refuses to be reduced to a plot device). We was with it until we learnt (through a series of convoluted events that aren't worth recounting) that Meenu can only be with Disha if he wins the local football competition. It's that pivotal "oh, okay, so that's the story, I get it now" moment. Except it arrives 80 minutes into the movie. Even after that, Jaadugar is unsure if the film is a coming-of-age story about a selfish individual learning to put others first or a team movie about an odd group of underdog misfits getting together to realise what they'd been missing all along was each other.
Jaadugar is clearly a love story that depicts Meenu's journey of how far he is willing to go for his love of Disha. But this is fake movie love at its worst, with huge romantic gestures, countless lip-sync songs, and a tone that belongs in a bygone era. The kind in which we get so much "Sacha Pyaar" gyaan, including but not limited to "pyaar jaadu hai (Love is magic)" and "jaadu mein pyaar hain (There is love in magic)," that we desire to die alone. The major figure responsible for bringing the film's numerous worlds together is Nilotpal Bora's assault-on-the-senses music, which doesn't so much heighten feeling as it does shove emotion down our throats. It's like sitting next to that aunty at the movies who inexplicably cry-laughs at every old joke and bawls at the least mention of emotion as if her life depended on it, drowning out everything on screen.
Throughout the film, the "tear-jerker" dramatic passages of various characters laying out their sob tales are particularly painful.
Then there's Jitendra Kumar, who appears in practically every frame. Even the most gifted actor would struggle to keep a comedy going for 3 hours. But Jaadugar takes a step further, becoming an accidental presentation of Jeetu's already all-too-familiar bag of tricks as a performer, particularly when confronted with lifeless writing. It's also a movie that smacks of a vanity production, with a whole narrative built around a single actor for the sole goal of showcasing his range. It's how discussions to launch a star kid at large studios going: "we'll make sure we show our hero can sing and dance and do comedy, drama, and romance." Jeetu has an engaging presence and charisma that shines through at times (such as when he first proposes to Disha in a goofy yet poignant sequence). Despite his efforts, Meenu is an utterly terrible character who is nearly impossible to root for.
What's unfortunate is that there's a lot of potentials here:
But it's nearly impossible to grasp any of those characteristics in the midst of such a tedious, aimless narrative.
A film about a beloved stage magician who abandons his act and transitions from illusions to a Ted talk, a stand-up performance, and finally spoken word poetry. All the while, we're tired and perplexed, wondering if he's finally exhausted his tricks.