Jagga Jasoos

Director: Anurag Basu
Music: Pritam Chakraborty
Year: 2017
Rating: 8.0

This is about the last type of film I would expect coming out of the Hindi film industry. It is like nothing else I have seen from there. It is a remarkable film that if it had been made in America would be a critical darling, but in India it seems to have gotten a shrug of the shoulders. It is absolutely delightful with cinematography that immerses you in a luscious magical world using light, images and whimsy brilliantly to create a fairy tale luster right before your eyes. You can certainly sense the influence of Wes Anderson, Baz Luhrmann and Jean-Pierre Jeunet in its puckish humor, surrealistic gorgeous palette, wry absurdity, clever editing and a constantly moving visual sleight of hand but it is something entirely different. It is a musical adventure – part Tin Tin even with the tuft of hair sticking up combined with Young Sherlock and any other child’s adventure story that you read when you were young and innocent and believed in heroes. Because essentially that is what it is – the imagination of a child at play making up adventures in the dark in which he saves damsels in distress, can suddenly fly airplanes, crashes through the floor just as he is about to be executed, mad dashes around Africa, a ride on an Emu, a kiss from the heroine and saves the world from death and destruction. And looks for his long lost father. It is perhaps a bit precious at times, a barb often thrown at Wes Anderson but it is so full of energy and wit that it is easy to overlook.

And as I said it is a musical – completely infused with song and melody – but not really in the usual way of a Bollywood film that has six to eight large musical set pieces. It is nearly a stream of music – loads of songs that often only last a minute – a little Gilbert and Sullivanesqe at times - a few others that are more ambitious. They utilize an interesting device to do this – the main character Jagga has a terrible stutter but is able to sing what he wants to say – so lines of dialogue are sung by him and sometimes sung back – it works as melodies from the composer Pritam fly by you like birds on the wing. There were in total 29 songs though some are just snatches of conversations.

Jagga (as a child played by Saravajeet Tiwari with a slight Harry Potter appearance) is an orphan who doesn’t speak because of his terrible stutter and has been for all intents adopted by a hospital staff in Darjeeling (Anderson reference?). One day he sees a man fall off of a train and he drags him into the hospital. This is as he comes to call him Tutti Frutti – who takes a shine to Jagga and shows him how to sing without a stutter. And then he adopts him. They are very happy together but one day a man comes and leaves a note for Tutti that forces him to leave and never come back. But he sends Jagga money for school and a vhs video every year telling him Happy Birthday.

Jagga grows up in the school and gets older and is then played by Ranbir Kapoor (of the Kapoor family). In real life Ranbir is 25 playing a 17 year-old which doesn’t really work but what the hell. He starts to notice things – question things – apply an analytical thought process – and he begins to solve mysteries to the wonder of his classmates – a murder and then a gun smuggling case – but he can’t find out where Tutti Frutti disappeared to. And then the birthday video doesn't come. In that there is a long story and the next big adventure. Into all of this wanders the bad luck Shruti, a journalist who people are trying to kill – played by Katrina Kaif, who I bump into a lot in films – though perhaps I plan it that way.

The director is Anurag Basu and I am not sure where this creative head rush came from – I have seen two of his earlier films and they were good but very conventional in style. I looked at a trailer of his 2012 film Barfi! also with Ranbir and you can see the seeds of this film in it. Ranbir who I have honestly avoided because I was just tired of all these damn Kapoor’s getting opportunities due to their connections – but I have to say how wrong I was – he is brilliant in this film – a great physical performance, lovely dead pan comedy on display and some pretty good though weird dance moves. He is also one of the producers. This was all in all a very pleasant surprise – especially as I was close to turning it off at about the 5 minute mark because I thought it was going to be a children's film - and it is with its sense of wonderment and discovery but it is really for all of us who still have kept some of that in our encrusted heart.