Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos is a delightful musical film. It is the story of a young detective Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor) who is in search of his father. He is joined by a journalist, Shruti (Katrina Kaif), who is also the narrator of the film. Saswata Chatterjee (Bob Biswas of Kahaani fame) plays Badal Bagchi/Tutti-Futti, who adopts Jagga as his child and becomes his father. The film is told as three stories of a comic book series named after Jagga Jasoos. The first part introduces Jagga and his detective skills where he solves the murder of one of his school teachers. In the second part, he meets Shruti and helps uncover an illegal arms-smuggling racket along the India-Myanmar border. Finally, in the third part, he goes on a search to find his father who has disappeared after getting involved in a related global arms-smuggling racket.
Basu takes inspiration from the characters that influenced his childhood to create a beautiful mélange of a film that speaks to the inner child in all of us.
There is a lot of Anurag Basu’s previous film Barfi! in Jagga Jasoos. While Barfi!‘s protagonist was a deaf and a mute boy, Jagga Jasoos‘ stutters while he speaks; in a way, there is some speech-related defect in the lead character of both the films. There is a close relationship between the father and the son in the two films (the film begins by paying homage to Anurag Basu’s father, Subrat Bose). The female lead characters in the two films share the exact same name―Shruti Sengupta. There is a funny cop in both the films. There was Barfi, named similar to a sweet in Barfi!, and there is Tutti-Futti, named similar to an ice-cream in Jagga Jasoos. The two films have a similar setting, Darjeeling in Barfi! and Ukhrul in Jagga Jasoos, and look a lot like each other. Additionally, there is a heightened colour palette with gorgeous cinematography in the two films which makes them look magical as if the films are set in some fairy tale.
In addition to the above overarching themes, there are quite a few other similarities in certain scenes of the two films. There is a heartbreaking moment in Barfi! when Barfi goes to meet Shruti’s parents and realizes that he is never going to be good enough for Shruti. Through his silent gestures, he communicates it to Shruti, wishes her the best, and then leaves. There is a similar scene in Jagga Jasoos when Jagga cries in front of the policeman who brings him the news about his father’s death. Jagga tries to say something, but his emotions get the better of him, quite reminiscent of the scene from Barfi!. In Barfi!, Jhilmil and Barfi use the reflection of the mirrors to communicate with each other. Likewise, at an early point in Jagga Jasoos, Jagga uses the reflection of the sunlight on his window to wake up the caged birds of the policeman who stays nearby. In Barfi!, there is a song titled Aashiyan; in Jagga Jasoos, the hotel where Shruti stays when she comes to Ukhrul is also called Aashiyana. In Barfi!, at some stage, Barfi, after going through an emotional day, comes and sleeps along with his father on his bed. There is a replica of the same scene in Jagga Jasoos when the young Jagga comes and sleeps along with Tutti-Futti on his hospital bed, displaying the close relationship between the father and the son in both the films.
In both Barfi! and Jagga Jasoos, Barfi and Jagga get to climb the top of a clock tower. In addition, falling lamp posts play a small part in both the films. There are a few other scenes of Jagga and Shruti in Jagga Jasoos that are quite reminiscent of Barfi and Jhilmil of Barfi!, such as the scene where the two of them cross the waters of a river, and the scene where they are sleeping together. The scene where Jagga and Shruti go into the tunnel on a raft using wooden oars is like the one where Barfi and Jhilmil escape from the policeman on a train trolley where Barfi uses a wooden pole to move forward. Even some locations in the two films are the same, such as the place where Barfi lives in Barfi! is the exact same one where the injured brother of the smuggler is being treated in Jagga Jasoos.
Jagga Jasoos and Barfi!
At some point in the film, Shruti tells the kids that we are all like comic characters and our stories are written by God. He adds in certain unpredictable plot twists if he wants to make two characters meet. This is like when Shakespeare had said that all the world’s a stage and we are merely the players, playing our own parts. The film presents Jagga as a comic book character and his story is narrated in three comic books. Jagga is also inspired by other famous comic characters. Tutti-Futti makes a tuft of hair on Jagga, giving him a look like Hergé’s famous character Tintin, who also had a similar tuft of hair. Jagga shares his love for solving mysteries and going on adventures with Tintin. There is a little bit of Indiana Jones in Jagga. There is also a little bit of Harry Potter in Jagga, when the film tells us that Jagga used to sleep under the stairs, just like Harry’s room at the Dursleys. Additionally, Jagga and Harry wear similar eye glasses. The film also has references to other fictional characters, such as Feluda and Sherlock Holmes. Shundi, the place where Jagga and Shruti go to in Mombaca, was also the name of the kingdom where Goopy and Bagha go in Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. In that film, as it happens here where cakes are dropped from the sky, Goopy and Bagha drop sweets perched from the top of a temple’s tomb after which people assume that they are Gods.
Hindi films are often called musicals, however, the concept of a musical film genre is quite different. Although in fairness, over the years, the definition of a musical has become more subjective but still it is worthwhile to elucidate on the concept of a musical film. There have been very few true musical films in Hindi cinema, such as Shirish Kunder’s Jaan-E-Mann (2006) and, perhaps, some parts of Shaad Ali’s Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007). In a musical film, the music helps advance the plot. As Lee Hamilton writes, “A writer is going to have to use the same techniques to write a musical that they would a drama, horror or comedy. The most crucial difference is, of course, the use of musical numbers. Numbers function, not as light relief from the storyline, but like any other element, the dialogue or the scene, it must be active, advance the or develop the character.” We saw a little bit of it in Barfi! which opens with a lovely song Ala Barfi that narrates the events of Barfi’s life―Radio on hua, Amma off hui, toota har sapna. Jagga Jasoos has a similar template but it uses the entire film as a musical to propel the story forward and which is what makes it a film truly belonging to the musical genre. The songs are not added as Hindi films, usually, have songs, but because they take the narrative forward. A song is reciting what the character might have said in words; however, since it is narrated in the form of song, the result becomes a thrilling musical expression like an opera.
In the beginning moments of the film, Tutti-Futti tells Jagga that the human brain is like a walnut. There are two sides of the brain―the left and the right. The left side is systematic and organized, while the right side is creative and a little nutty (quite opposite to what is seen in political ideologies where the Left is, typically, more artistic and creative as compared to the Right). The left side helps in speaking, while the right side is for singing. Tutti-Futti tells Jagga that he should sing which will help him in his stuttering and then he can see the magic. We, actually, experience the magic of this singing and the music throughout the film. Tukka Laga, Miss Mala, and Khaana Khaake are simply fabulous. Even the non-lyrical portions with only the music are a treat to watch. Whether it is the banging of the plates, the tapping of the feet, the imaginary playing of the piano, the pendulum of the clock or simply the sound of a typewriter, it feels as if everything in the film is trying to create its own music.
There is a lot in the film to not just visually experience but also to process and make sense of it. The proceedings are fast and I was struggling to catch up in some parts of the film. But I was never bored. The film treats the audience as intelligent to figure some things out. It does not spoon-feed everything and leaves some things for the audience. For instance, at an earlier point, Shruti was reading an Igbo-English dictionary. Later, when she is confronted by the Mombaca police, she starts singing in Igbo and we get it because she was reading that book earlier, she can sing in that language now. Or, for instance, there was a plaster on Bagchi’s hand when he gives the tape to Sinha. Later, it all makes sense as to how he would have got the fracture when Shruti falls from one of the buildings and gets a similar plaster. In addition, there is great attention to detail in the film. A cyber café in Calcutta is called Stebe Jobs Café. In another instance, during the second half, Shruti and Jagga have to take a plane. Shruti asks Jagga if he knows how to fly one. He tells her that he has read it in the library. In the first half, we did see that there is a book called How To Fly A Plane that was clearly visible in his room. There are a quite a few other books in the film as well. The second part of the film, Jagga Jasoos and the Murder on the Giant Wheel, takes few points from Sugata Bose’s His Majesty’s Opponent, based on the life of Subhas Chandra Bose, and Jagga is shown reading the same book. Another book that the film showed was A Burmese Perspective but I have not been able to find the original book and its author.
Anurag Basu also creates some really quaint whimsical moments. The film opens with a shot of a lone tree in Purulia. A similar shot of a single tree is repeated at different places in the film across continents. At many points, when there is a scene cut, a giraffe just randomly walks across the screen. Talking of giraffes, when Jagga and Tutti-Futti unite in the end and hug each other, the film shows that the two giraffes are also trying to hug each other. There is a laugh-out scene involving a policeman and the phones. Mobiles are absent in the film. There is another wonderful scene comparing Agapastala hotels to Bikanwerwala sweets. I would be interested to know if there is some theory behind choosing a man with one body and two faces as the villain. Is it some indication of the two sides―good and bad? Also, the two faces are called Bashir and Alexander. Going by stereotypical rationale, the names belong to two different religions. Of course, only Basu can tell more about them, perhaps, if there is a sequel.
I am not entirely sure as to how to fully explain it but there is somewhat of a continuous interplay of reality and fiction in the film. Recall the time when Jagga goes to meet Shruti at her hotel after the murder on the giant wheel. The camera shows us that on the television, there is some kind of a fight going on between two tribal characters. Then, Jagga and Shruti start throwing things at each other, like the events happening on the TV. In another similar depiction, during the Tukka Laga song, Jagga and Shruti jump into the room located just below their floor amidst the gun shots by the policemen who are trying to kill them. When they land into the room, there is a lady who is playing a video game in which she is shooting a few characters, mirroring as to what is happening to the film’s characters. In both the instances, the reality and the fiction in the film kind of merge forming some kind of surreal world. In addition, the film opens in Purulia depicting the famous arms dropping case, and ends in Mombaca, a fictional place. The first half of the film is based on real-life places and plausible scenarios that could exist in reality. In the second half, the film moves to a realm of complete fantasy, where not only the events, but even the places they go to, such as Mombaca and Shundi, are fictional. Jagga and Shruti escape behind ostriches, and fly a plane over ‘imaginary’ world maps. At an early point in the film, a kid asks Shruti if Jagga is ‘real’. At that point, Jagga is depicted as a comic book character, and by the end of the film, Jagga makes a ‘real’ appearance at the kids’ show. The larger point that I am trying to make is that the film creates a world combining both real-life and fantasy elements, something like the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie. Someone with a better understanding of cinema can, perhaps, articulate this point better.
The first time Jagga sees Shruti getting down from a bus, it reminds us of Tutti-Futti and his bad luck. At that point, I thought that Shruti is Badal Bagchi (don’t blame me, anything is possible in Anurag Basu’s world) in some form, or, perhaps, she is his daughter, and that would be the film’s final twist. How can two people share the exact mannerisms or bad luck, without having any relation between them? It was a little discomfiting that a boy’s love interest and his father is a ‘carbon copy’ of each other in their behavior. But what I really liked about the film is that it treated people with a bad luck as equally important contributors. It might be funny to witness the things that happen to such people, but somehow, their bad luck brings in good luck to others as Jagga explains. Instead of mocking and ridiculing her, Jagga convinces Shruti to be his partner in his quest to find his father. That is an important takeaway. People who succeed despite having a bad luck have no other factor except their own hard work as a reason for their success. And, the other important ‘message’, if it can be so called, was the philosophy of the song Khaana Khaake. “Life ki simple si philosophy yeh jaan lo, hum yahan do din ke mehmaan hain, yeh maan lo, nonstop ek party hai, jahaan sab ko aana hai, aur khaana kha ke daaru pi ke chale jaana hai.” Again, we see that Shakespearean theme as mentioned in preceding paragraphs, but this time, life is compared to a party, where everyone comes for a party, eats, drinks and goes away. The song is wonderfully choreographed and it becomes one of the defining moments of the film which will make me remember the film. It is also deeply poignant that in the song they are celebrating the birthday of a dead person.
The film ventures into new territories, not only in its treatment, but also the places in the film. The film shows some cultural aspects of Manipur and Assam. When was the last time we saw a depiction of a real tribal community? The Kayan people look fabulous. It is great to see the North-East getting prominence in Hindi films. Earlier this year, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Rangoon was also shot in Arunachal Pradesh. Instead of going to Europe and the Americas, the film is shot in Morocco in Africa, a relatively unexplored location for Hindi films.
Ranbir Kapoor, who also turns producer with the film, is simply superb. This role is quite different from his other recent roles, but there has never been a doubt on his acting prowess. He is amazing. Katrina Kaif is good enough. Saswata Chatterjee wins hearts with his portrayal of Tutti-Futti. But the film belongs to the three people―Amitabh Bhattacharya, Pritam, and Anurag Basu. The music is the soul of the film, and it is only after watching the film, I starting loving the songs. This would be half the film it is now, if not for the music. S. Ravi Varman’s gorgeous cinematography deserves a special mention as well. I loved Shiamak Davar’s choreography in Ullu Ka Pattha.
The film opens with a tribute to Raj Kapoor, where we see his picture holding the clown from Mera Naam Joker, and the lines Gardish Me Taare Rahenge Sada from the song Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan from the same film written below it. Directed and produced by Raj Kapoor, Mera Naam Joker suffered big losses at the box-office. The film was panned for its length and plot. It took nearly six years to complete and the film’s failure almost led to the sale of Kapoor’s RK Studios. However, over the years, the film acquired a cult status and found its audience, and is regarded as a classic today. It is worthwhile to observe the parallels between Jagga Jasoosand Mera Naam Joker. Jagga Jasoos has also been in the making for quite a while (over three years), and like his grandfather, Ranbir has put his own money in the film. Like Mera Naam Joker, the initial reactions have been mixed with the film being criticized for its musical nature. It is struggling to catch up on the box-office and is going to lose money. By its very nature, the film is a huge risk given the experimental nature of the plot and the limited preferences of the Indian audience. But as Shruti says in Barfi!, “Life mein sabse bada risk hota hai, kabhi koi risk na lena.” If no one takes a risk, how will the world move forward? Over the coming years, perhaps, Jagga Jasoos will also find its audience and will be considered a ‘misunderstood masterpiece’ like his grandfather’s movie. If not, Gardish Me Taare Rahenge Sada. The stars will forever be in the sky. And, it will still remain a small but significant part of the history of the movies.
[Read more of the author’s work on his blog: http://dichotomy-of-irony.blogspot.in]