Jaadugar review: Jitendra Kumar's comedy is exhausting in baffling Netflix film | Bollywood - Hindustan Times

Jaadugar review: Jitendra Kumar struggles to hold comedy in baffling Netflix film, leaves us exhausted and confused

BySuchin Mehrotra
Jul 15, 2022 04:20 PM IST

Jaadugar review: Jitendra Kumar and Javed Jaafery-starrer sports comedy film is exhausting and confusing instead of being funny.

Jaadugar, Netflix India’s latest original movie, is a truly baffling film, however you choose to slice it. For one, it’s the first movie from Posham Pa Pictures - the new production company formed by the OG TVF gang. Following some sort of internal shakeup, some of the key creative voices that made TVF what it is today, left to start their own outfit. Directed by Sameer Saxena and written by Biswapati Sarkar, Jaadugar is the first feature film from that new venture. Biswapati Sarkar, Nidhi Bisht, Amit Golani, Sameer Saxena, Saurabh Khanna - the familiar names behind this film are the same core creative team responsible for TVF gems like Humorously Yours, Yeh Meri Family, Permanent Roommates, Tripling, and the first seasons of Kota Factory, Hostel Daze, and Panchayat, to name a few. Also Read: Ranveer vs Wild with Bear Grylls review: Actor weeps, eats maggots, misses Deepika Padukone

A still from Jitendra Kumar's Netflix film Jaadugar.
A still from Jitendra Kumar's Netflix film Jaadugar.

Despite being packaged as a light, feel-good-coming-of-age-oh-and-also-there’s-sports romantic comedy, Jaadugar works better as a mystery thriller. And there are several mysteries to unpack here. First - how and why tried and tested talented storytellers like these made a film like this. What were they going for? Or then the mystery of why anyone involved thought a slow-burn 3-hour light comedy on streaming was a good idea. Or - perhaps the biggest puzzle of them all - what exactly the plot is.

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It’s not easy to distill the headscratcher of a plot in a few lines, but I’ll do my best. It’s about a magician who has to choose between his hatred of football and the woman he loves. Or maybe a reluctant footballer who must choose between his love of magic and his true love? Or a lover that has to choose between magic and football? It’s essentially three hours of “pick a card, any card, no not that card, oh wait that’s a yellow card, no it’s a red card” all to finally print a wedding card. Basically, somewhere in the Posham Pa Pictures office, there’s a whiteboard with a Venn diagram with “football”, “stage magic”, and “love story” drawn on it, the random unlikely intersection of which was used to conceive this screenplay.

Jaadugar is set in the small town of Neemuch. In the world of the film, it’s a football-obsessed community responsible for producing most national-level players. Some even believe it’s where Maradonna is secretly from, we’re told. Meenu (Jitendra Kumar) comes from a football family. His late father and his uncle Pradeep (a reliable but directionless Jaaved Jaaferi, here armed with an inexplicable stutter) were all football legends. Naturally, immense pressure falls on Meenu to follow in their footsteps and join his uncle’s team to compete in the local football tournament. (Think of every quintessentially TVF young-person-forced-into-engineering narrative, but here instead of engineering, it’s… football). But Meenu is having none of it. He hates the game with a passion and believes it costs him his father’s life. (It’s important to note here that, despite what you might think, Meenu is pretty terrible at the game). Instead, his passions lie in performance and dazzling people as an amateur stage magician.

The opening leg of the film (which is also its most watchable) builds a sweet, lovable world of humour and warmth. I’m not quite sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the meandering way, it becomes clear the movie doesn’t know where it’s going. Or perhaps it’s okay with the idea that it’s going everywhere. I was with it till it introduced Disha, the new pretty doctor in town who becomes the object of Meenu’s affections (a self-assured Arushi Sharma who refuses to be reduced to a narrative device). I was with it till (through a series of convoluted events that aren’t worth getting into) we realise that the only way for Meenu to be with Disha is if he wins the town’s football tournament. It’s that key “oh okay so that’s the story, I get it now” moment. Except that it comes 80 minutes into the film. But even after that Jaadugar can’t seem to decide if it’s a coming of age narrative of a selfish guy learning to put others first or a team movie with an unlikely group of underdog misfits coming together to realise what they were missing all along was each other. I think? Like I said, mystery thriller.

What is clear is that, at its core, Jaadugar is a love story, and follows Meenu’s journey of how far he’s willing to go for his love of Disha. But this is hollow movie love of the most insufferable kind, featuring grand romantic gestures, multiple lip sync songs, and a tonality that belongs to a decade gone by. The kind where we get so much “Sacha Pyaar” gyaan - including to but not limited to “pyaar jaadu hai (Love is magic)” and “jaadu mein pyaar hain (There is love in magic)” - that it makes you aspire to die alon.

At the center of Jaadugar is the key figure responsible for tying the film’s many worlds together: Nilotpal Bora’s assault-on-the-senses score which doesn’t heighten feeling as much as it does shovel emotion down our throats. It’s the background score equivalent of finding yourself sitting next to that aunty in a cinema theatre who inexplicably cry-laughs at every stale joke and bawls at the smallest mention of emotion as if her life depended on it, thereby drowning out anything unfolding on screen. The “tear-jerkier” dramatic scenes of various characters laying out their sob stories throughout the film are particularly unbearable.

And then there’s Jitendra Kumar who is, of course, in almost every frame. Even the most talented actor would struggle to hold a comedy for a grating 3 hours. But Jaadugar goes one step further and becomes an unintentional showcase of Jeetu’s now all too familiar bag of tricks as a performer, especially when faced with lifeless writing. It’s also a movie that wreaks of a vanity project - with an entire narrative that feels constructed around a single actor with the entire purpose of exhibiting his range. It’s how I imagine let’s-launch-a-star-kid meetings go down at top production houses: “we’ll make sure we show our hero can sing and dance and do comedy and drama and romance.” Jeetu has an unshakeably endearing presence and charm and there are moments he shines (such as in one ridiculous but heartfelt scene where he first proposes to Disha). But for the most part, despite his efforts, Meenu is an objectively insufferable character who’s near impossible to root for.

What’s sad is there is much promise here - the wonderfully sweet world, the endearing middle-class- family humour, that the other characters on the team are given actual attention and dimension (a hilarious Raj Qushal as Meenu’s leather-jacket-clad insurance agent friend, in particular). But it’s next to impossible to hold onto any of those aspects amidst such a laborious, directionless narrative.

A film that feels like the equivalent of watching a beloved stage magician who inexplicably breaks his act and jumps from illusions to a Ted talk, to a stand-up routine, and ends with spoken word poetry. All while we sit there, exhausted and confused, wondering if perhaps he’s finally run out of tricks.

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