Cast: Nani, Jagapathi Babu, Aishwarya Rajesh, Ritu Varma
Director: Shiva Nirvana
From a distance, director Shiva Nirvana's third film (after Ninnu Kori and the much-liked Majili) is a story about blood. On an obvious level, it is about the same blood that's spilled in most big-star Telugu movies, with its slo-mo entry scenes, razor-sharp sickles, flying SUVs and immovable villains. But Tuck Jagdish is far more interested in the other kind of blood—the family kind or at least the kind of blood you're likely to see in a Sooraj Barjatya film. For the most part, this concoction of these two opposite blood types seems forced and manipulative, as though a pure family drama needed the adulteration of action for its star and the box office.
But as you get into the film's second hour, you start sensing a pattern and you realise that the film's writer thinks more like a farmer than the characters shoehorned into such films, only for the hero to save later on. I say this because most of the first half felt like a series of incoherent scenes stitched together. But as you go along, you realise that what he was doing is almost exactly like a farmer planting seeds, knowing very well that the harvest will only come in later. Instead of seeds, he plants ideas, characters, a tiny conflict, a giant conflict, a mass moment and a character trait.
Of these, I found the character trait to be the most interesting. Tuck Jagadish (a solid Nani, whose crying can make you cry too) gets this name because he refuses to untuck his shirt. At first, this feels like a silly detail and one the film sticks to with ferocious consistency (he barely gets a scene where he's not tucked in). Apart from using it for his urban credentials (and that Thevar Magan feeling), you expect the back story of this 'tuck' to add to the film's mass moments. But when the payoff hits you, the scene is an emotional one, almost too boring to have been the film's title. Yet it fits, almost as perfectly as Nani's shirts and trousers in the film.
It's the same with the film's prologue (it has two). We see sickles, a plantain field, warring factions from the same family and lots of bitterness, but this isn't the opening to a giant saga we are about to see. It comes back as a small sub-plot later that is meant to fit into the Barjatya's kind of blood and not the violent kind.
So when we get into the film's later portions we get a series of these 'harvests' in the form of payoffs, echoing on from clues he left for us earlier. Some of them work wonderfully, with the wait being worth it, while others let us down. All this feels even more rewarding because we sit through a lot of the first half thinking we are watching an obvious family drama.
Take for instance, the way Jagadish's family gets established. There's just too much mirth going on with too many generous people. They appear to be in an advertisement for Haldirams and you just want all the niceness to just get over so we can move on to the backstabbing. It is the same with the ultra-obvious writing that has gone into a scene between Jagdish and Naidu (Nasser), his father. With its eventuality being predictable from districts away, you'd expect an economic filmmaker to get past it with a shorter scene with better writing.
All this flab gives us the impression that we're watching a predictable film, with little surprises to offer. So when you get that shocker of a massy interval twist, you sit up and start taking the film seriously. This cleverness extends to the casting decisions too. At first, the move to cast Jagapathi Babu in such a character felt shortsighted and pointless, but Shiva expects this reaction from us and he even uses it against us. It's like he wanted to get a set of points out of the way early on, so he can focus on complex family ties and their eventual resolutions. It's a tricky bit of writing, because these scenes work only because we start to care for this messy family. And because he has saved twists even within the family setup, the masala never stops complimenting the mass moments Nani gets towards the end.
In parts, you also wish some of the dialogues hadn't felt as rudimentary as it does in the beginning. A lot of it must have been lost in translation but one cannot understand how lines as obvious as 'I want to be have the biggest land parcel in the village' and 'you are like my mother even though your not' make it into the final draft. Even the making is strictly functional and nothing more, with a set of songs that just about do the job. Even so, with so many lovely payoffs, Tuck Jagadish is a film that gets enjoyable as you go along. It needed to be tighter but it's still a good old-fashioned family drama with lots of clever writing.