Jagga Jasoos

I want to get something out of the way: once again a major Hindi film bungles its major female role. In fact, in this film, Shruti (Katrina Kaif) is the only female role to have more than a few sentences—it's a ridiculous Bechdel Test fail—and she is not written convincingly at all. It's a Boy's Own type of narrative, put in a (pointedly?) Goopy and Bagha-style world in which women don't figure. Even in the fantastical world of this film, she doesn't really read as an investigative journalist. I assume a person can be an investigative journalist while also being a klutz and general goofball, but maybe not when going after arms smugglers?

To my surprise, I have no major problems with Toddler Fishface's performance. It's probably the least bad I've ever seen her be, but she brings nothing in particular to it other than a perhaps unique ability to fall over. The woman-child Katrina persona (see also Bang Bang, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, possibly Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani if memory serves) is no more ineffective than other versions of her, but as much as I dislike it, the writers and director are probably more to blame. I maintain that her principal appeal is that she is blank enough to serve as surface for projected fantasies, but now that she's in fewer movies and Deepika and Anushka and Alia and Kangana have risen so prominently, it doesn't bother me quite as much. But this character is just not workable.

Especially in contrast to Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor) and Tutifuti (Saswata "Bob Biswas and lots of good Bengali movies" Chatterjee), who are written and performed to a T. Much of Jagga Jasoos does feel like a trip back to the Barfi well, but if one must repeat oneself so precisely, that's a fine source. Ranbir...he's just SO GOOD, especially when allowed to float in some of his natural lightness and not welded to the admittedly effective distraught/withdrawn/sulky lover-boy thing.* None of his contemporaries can do what he can do. Ranbir is also really well matched to the musical structure of this, with Jagga's troubles with spoken words opening a door for an array of other kinds of communication: sung, danced, gestural, postural, facial, etc. Ranbir does more with just his eyebrows than Katrina does with her whole face (although I counted at least three expressions from her, perhaps a career best). I can't think of another Hindi film that uses music as this one does, most notably the recitatives, and I love how engaging and joyful all of the sung pieces are.

More thoughts:

  • I do not need the story-within-a-story device at all. I don't think the reveal of Jagga as real at the end is a surprise to anyone in the film's audience, and it just sets up more chances for Katrina to underwhelm (and show a lot of leg).
  • The choreography by Vijay Ganguly is aces—perfect for these people and these situations. I assume he also did the AMAZING clock tower mystery-reenactment sequence (it's in the same style as "Galti Se Mistake"). 
  • What is the weird "I will marry all of you" distraction about? That's the smattering of Igbo Shruti picks up? And this light-skinned person is so enchanting that ten local police officers are transfixed enough not to notice she's trying to escape?
  • Did the backgrounds in some of the outdoor locations look as shonky on your screen as they did on ours? There are ways in which this is such an imaginative film that the imperfectly-rendered landscapes were distracting. No one's fantasy adventure looks like that.
  • This film suffers from a mild Curse of the Second Half; it's not a precipitous drop, and the goal of searching for Tutifuti is a noble one with its own innate emotional momentum, and the locales are striking and pretty, but the overall effect scatters. 
  • This is another addition to my favorite micro-genre "Searching for answers in Calcutta" (Kahaani, Kahaani 2, Te3n, Piku, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy)
Some of what I'm saying makes it sound like I don't like Jagga Jasoos, but I really do. It's very charming, especially before the interval, and the mazes of Ukhrul (or was that Darjeeling) and corners of the old school bathed in the film's red and green palette are such a pleasure. The good decisions in filmmaking distract from the bad, enough so that I didn't really realize how lackluster some of the story is and how badly it does by its heroine until after the film ended. It is absolutely worth a watch on the big screen for the colors, visual details, and songs.

* It is, however, a concern that he's already being cast as characters 10 years younger (at least) than his actual age. There's no reason for Jagga to be a student, is there?

Comments

Aparna said…
I liked this movie, but as I watched a pirated version, did not get to "love" it as much.

The female character was supposed to be a foil, she is the story teller, so it was not really how Jagga sees her, but how she sees herself...no? Or I might be mistaken. I wish, wish, wish someone else played her. Miss KK adds nothing to that character (except the legs as you mentioned). The only good thing about her was that she seemed comfortable in her skin in any attire.

The ending stretched a bit - I was done by the first train ride. The stretch between that and the second one seemed useless, but again, that could be due to the pirated copy.

On a side note: Had given up reading your blog when there were no updates for a long time. Good to see you back.
Beth Watkins said…
Hi Aparna! Interesting point about how the female character is framed. If she is defining herself in the narrative, then it's even more curious that she makes herself so halfbaked. I think it's possible for a character to be minor in terms of importance or screentime but still feel substantial as a person, but this film doesn't do that.

Re: post frequency: my job has REALLY been kicking my butt this year. I'm trying to get back to a once-a-week posting schedule but that probably won't start until after my big September deadline. :)
Aparna said…
I agree with: "it's possible for a character to be minor in terms of importance or screentime but still feel substantial as a person, but this film doesn't do that." Though they did put in quirks such as "remembering her dead boyfriend and even celebrating his birthday" but the film or maybe KK does not make that register much - there could have been so much pain associated with it.