I remember when I saw Jagga Jasoos’s first teaser. I remember feeling that I was in for a tintin-esque adventure with Wes Anderson aesthetics and Amélie level emotions. I also remember remembering allegations of plaigarism against Anurag Basu for Barfi!
Let’s get this out of the way, Anurag Basu was indeed inspired by various classics for ‘Barfi!’. However, he did not infact steal anything outright, he freely admitted during filming to those scenes being homages to people he considered integral to cinema. Jagga Jasoos definitely has a Tintin vibe to it, it does have the exceedingly high contrast and symmetric scene schematic usually appropriated to Anderson but it is most definitely Basu’s film. There are things in there that give a very unique vibe and the sheer… life that these characters exhibit is definitely not Anderson-esque.
There is slapstick that will remind of other stuff, but like stories, there are only about a dozen physical jokes in the world*, only context changes, the punchline remains the same. So that’s not something you can really hold him accountable for.
Also, filmmaking is not like math. You cannot copy someone else’s homework and get an A. Even scenes that are heavily ‘inspired’ take an extraordinary amount of ingenuity to execute. So, yeah, Basu may have ‘stolen’ things before, but do not make the mistake of assuming that that behooves a lack of talent.
Now that I have (despicably, in some of your opinions) defended Basu, let’s get on to the film. It is singularly the most refreshing piece of cinema I have seen this year. Is it the best? No. Does it have a particularly unique storyline? No. Is it incredibly inventive in it’s storytelling? Yes, absolutely.
The film starts with an airplane dropping a cache of weapons due to misinterpreting the shenanigans of a filming crew on the ground as signals from Naxalite ground forces. This kicks into motion our story, narrated to us (and on screen children) by Katrina Kaif in a circus. We are told of an orphan called Jagga, abandoned at the steps of a hospital who has grown up to become a loved child there. He sees a man fall from a moving train and helps nurse him to health.
The man, after countless tries to learn Jagga’s name, finds that he stammers and therefore doesn’t speak much in fear of judgement. He gives Jagga a way to communicate using music and eventually takes him away from the hospital, to raise him as his son. Things then take a turn for the worse and he has to leave Jagga at a boarding school. It’s a poignant moment (one that Basu revisits later in the film) as he leaves in an auto while Jagga watches.
The film fast forwards about a decade, Jagga is now all grown-up (yet strangely still in high school). We are shown a montage showcasing his curiosity, so as to estabilish his penchant for solving mysteries. We are also shown that Jagga recieves VHS tapes from his father every year as a birthday gift, through which he has been taught about all the essentials of life. As the story progresses, Jagga solves a murder and in one of his later adventures comes across Shruti Sengupta (played stunningly by Katrina Kaif), and saves her from being arrested. Shruti leaves with a promise of assistance to Jagga, should he ever require it.
Some time later, it’s Jagga’s birthday. But the tape does not arrive. Jagga waits for days and is then informed by a local police officer that his father is dead, and was called Badal Bagchi. Reading Bagchi’s obituary, Jagga goes to calcutta to attend a prayer meeting in his name. There, he is told by a mysterious man (Saurabh Shukla) about his father’s actual profession. Quickly seeing through the holes in the story and proclaiming that his father isn’t dead, Jagga stages a daring escape and goes to Shruti for help.
Their research takes them to South Africa, where Jagga believes his father is hiding out. The rest of the film takes you through a wild journey involving rooftop chases, trains, planes, giraffe and weirdly enough, a boulder. There’s also a couple of meerkats (those animals from Madagascar) thrown in the mix.
Katrina Kaif is quite good, better than expected, at least. Her accent, as always, hinders her a little but that is explained away by a ‘schooling in london’ moment. Saswata Chatterjee’s potrayal of Bagchi is brilliant and heartwarming and Saurabh Shukla, as always wins over the audience with his impeccable comic timing.
The real star of the show is, obviously, Ranbir Kapoor. He is simply phenomenal, his face moving in goofy ways you wouldn’t think were actually possible and his eyes expressing more than some starkids have in their entire careers. At no point does a note of his fall flat, no glance is too long, no laugh too small. This film is definitive proof that Ranbir Kapoor is at least one of the best actors in business right now.
Let’s get technical.
It is clear that Basu is his element. Every scene has his own unique touch, a certain European feel washed out with Bollywood masala. Ravi Varman (Cinematographer. Tamasha, Ramleela, Barfi!) creates magic on screen. Each frame is like a painting, feeling like it was made from a pallette of the most vibrant colors in the world. The film is littered with symmetric sets and liberal usage of cinematographic composition techniques. It is precise but with a natural touch.
Unlike Anderson films, there are not a lot of wide angles. The color isn’t always insane. It’s rich, but not unnerving. The only thing bad is that it’s sometimes miscalculated, leading away from the storytelling instead of enhancing it. There’s also some weird blur in a few scenes that I’m pretty sure was added in post production, these are all semantics, however and will hardly matter to an average cinema-goer.
The music is very classic, very Disney. It compliments the movie well, though, I guess that’s what matters. There is also the fact that it is pretty much entirely conveyed through music, even when the characters are not outright singing or rappping, there is something informing you that Pritam is lurking just around the corner.
Another thing that struck me is Basu’s apparent love for wipe out transitions, they’re scattered throughout the film. In particular, there is one scene where circular movement combined with wipe out transitions creates a moment I haven’t seen anywhere else, and I’ve seen A LOT of movies. In short, the film has some amazing technical work and all film nerds should definitely rush to the theaters.
As I said before, this film is a treat for film fans. There are references to Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Tintin and a whole lotta other people. AGAIN, guys, they are references, not stolen scenes. In fact, Basu has gone ahead and made sure that nothing substantial in the film can be called unoriginal. It is still a film for kids, though, filled with hope and with a happy ending (mostly). If you have Anurag Kashyap tendencies, you probably won’t like it, but who knows? I like Kashyap and I loved it.
My advice is, give this movie a chance. Y’all may or may not like it, but it is indeed a breakthrough for Bollywood. Plus, Jagga has some rad freestyling skills.
* Honestly, there’s a book about it!