The other day I woke up, made myself a meal and started watching Jagga Jasoos, streaming on Netflix. What fun. This is how everyday oughta be. Pandemic or not. Although I must say that because of it the film had more of an emotional impact on me, for obvious reasons: we could all do with some escapism right now and Jagga Jasoos is pure fantasy. As it happened, when the film came out in theatres 3 years ago, I was in a similar situation for a different reason, homebound for over a month because of an operation in my left foot. Even within the house, I could only move around with a pair of crutches. I was advised not to step out unless I really had to. I had to watch Jagga Jasoos, on the day of its release. And I had to go watch it again, the next day itself. I’ll never forget the attention the crutches got me—and privileges—curiosity mixed with a look of pity, as if I’m going to use them for the rest of my life. Uncomfortable with the gaze, I remember trying to appear more cheerful, as if that was going to make them look away.
My legs are fine now, but none of us can step out. And I had to write about a Hindi film that ‘makes me happy’. I didn’t have to think much.
A Hindi film with a Bengali spirit
Watching it for the third time, Jagga Jasoos still seems too-good-to-be-true. Anurag Basu got away with making the ultimate film for the Bengali fanboy. So what it flopped so badly that it prompted Disney Studios India to shut shop, compelling the filmmaker to go back to ‘safer’ projects (pushing his dream of making that Kishore Kumar biopic further into uncertainty)? And it’s not just the Satyajit Ray Easter eggs, or the musical format of the film that draws from Ray’s Hirak Rajar Deshe. Basu created the character of Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor) in the mould of the classic Bengali hero. Like Shankar from ‘Chander Pahar’, he goes to Africa. Like every Feluda fan, he is a private detective in his head, solving a case by picking up a clue from something as mundane as a bowl of rajma left to be soaked overnight.
But the essence of Jagga lies in his biggest hero, Badal Bagchi (Saswata Chatterjee), the man who fathered him, a middle aged Bengali man, capable of both professor-like wisdom and comedian-like tomfoolery. Like Kakababu, or the Utpal Dutta character from Agantuk, he is a well-travelled man who goes off grid and stays with the tribals deep into the jungle. He could have well been involved in the Naxal movement. Like Netaji he is still alive.
At the beginning we see him telling Jagga, too afraid to speak because of his stammering, the important words that will set the tone for the film: he tells him about the left side and the right side of the human brain being the logical and the creative ones respectively, and encourages him to follow the right one by urging him to sing instead of speaking.
I don’t think that Jagga Jasoos may be ‘too Bengali’ for others. Not many Bengalis I know like it—just like many non-Bengalis I know like it. You don’t need to know the language or be familiar with the culture to appreciate Jagga Jasoos. All you probably need is a bit of that right brain that Bagchi talks about.
Sympathy for the misfit
Bumbling journalist Shruti (Katrina Kaif) is clumsy. And Jagga likes her precisely for that. It reminds him of his father, who was equally clumsy and “bad lucky”.
Despite choosing it as a film that makes me happy, I like the fact that Jagga Jasoos is not all happy-happy. There’s an underlying sadness that resurfaces from time to time in the film, like Pritam’s mournful violins.
Pritam’s musical numbers, written in large parts by Amitabh Bhattacharya, skilfully turn dialogue into song. There are 29 of them. One of them has Jagga solving a murder mystery that devolves into gibberish (with the words Cambodia, Estonia… Uluberia.. sung as if an opera reaching crescendo), a style that harks back to the nonsense poetry of Sukumar Ray.
You can sense the touch of absurd running through the film, including the ‘Khaana Khaake’ song, which unfolds in a surreal house party in Kolkata. It doesn’t have an apparent narrative purpose, but you want it.
And in ‘Musafir’, the song that comes in the end, there’s a line that goes Yaha tera tere siva, hai dooja nahi koi re. It’s as cliched as Hindi film lyrics can be, but when it plays in the movie, it’s perfect: On their plane back from Africa, Jagga looks on as Shruti and Bagchi sleep peacefully, and he has that look on his face that this is the happiest he has ever been. These two really are the only two people in his life.