Magical, messy and heart-warming—Sameer Saxena’s Jaadugar is an underrated Hindi entertainer that exasperated Netflix audiences have been waiting for. Baffling and gripping in equal parts, this new venture from the fledgeling Posham Pa productions is sure to make one feel heady with emotion—good and bad—in its whopping three-hour-long runtime, which is a bit extensive for an OTT movie but not wholly unrewarding.
Nestled between the borders of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the idyllic town of Neemuch could never have imagined being noticed on India’s map, let alone as a Bollywood project. But Saxena and writer Biswapati Sarkar have achieved this near-impossible goal while capturing the essence of small-town India—its broken roads, tinted matchbox homes, and seedy magic shows—and, most importantly, its undying love and reverence for ‘gully’ sports.
Jaadugar tries hard not to be a sports film—it’s supposed to be a story of love, romance and self-discovery, where inter-colony football is a binding factor. It tells the tale of ‘Magic Meenu’ (Jitendra Kumar), a good-for-nothing, rather cold-blooded magician hell-bent on winning over his crush, Disha (Arushi Sharma) and her solemn magician father (Manoj Joshi) by leading his neighbourhood football team to ‘victory’ with his sub-par skills. The confusion and hilarity that ensues form the crux of the story.
It almost seems as if Jitendra Kumar has found his niche and is sticking to it. After all, from the disgruntled secretary in Panchayat to a happy-go-lucky gay man in Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan—it looks like the actor, who made his name in TVF series, finds joy in representing small town hopes, dreams and ambitions. However, he says all his characters are different from each other. “There are so many stories of small towns that need to be told. Who knows that better than a small town boy from Khairthal in Rajasthan, whose real-life story too reads like a film script?” Kumar told The Tribune in a 2020 interview.
Fresh film, fresh faces
Barring a few known names, Jaadugar boasts fresh faces, and its focus on individual stories helps highlight their idiosyncrasies. Newcomer Raj Qushal, with his excellent comic timing, is refreshing as Lalli—Meenu’s flamboyant friend with a taste for women and ‘modified’ bikes. In fact, the comedic moments between Meenu and Lalli make for some of the juiciest bits in the film. Add to this some of Manoj Joshi and Jaaved Jaafferi’s veteran magic, and you have a complete entertainer with a stellar cast.
The film also teaches essential lessons on consent without sounding preachy. Disha boldly puts a persistent Meenu in place, and he slowly realises his mistakes, making him contained in his pursuit of her. In one instance, Disha (loosely translated as ‘direction’ in Hindi) ironically loses her way while going home and is uncomfortable seeking help from Meenu. So whenever she moves in the wrong direction, Meenu rings the bell of his cycle to help her find her way, making it out to be a mere coincidence. This simple moment brings out the chemistry between the lead pair while showing respect for personal boundaries.
But as good as it is, the Jaadugar has its shortfalls. For starters, there is a lot that Saxena and Sarkar try to cram in the film—to the point where it loses direction and steam. Jaadugar’s plot moves in a zig-zag—from romance to direction to family to sports to friendship and back to sports. As a result, the (almost) three-hour-long runtime begins to feel overwhelming and unjustifiable.
There are lots of loose ends the duo forget to tie. Some characters are introduced suddenly, while others are built up and forgotten. For instance, we really don’t know what happened to Meenu’s magic assistant, Saklecha.
Nilotpal Bora’s score doesn’t work either and is bland at best. It fails to evoke emotion and is inserted at inappropriate moments. A no-songs approach would’ve also worked.
The film could’ve been near perfect had it not touched upon so many themes. It started off well and was hilarious through and through, not to mention the rock-solid cast, which did as much as it could. However, as convoluted as it may get at times, Jaadugar is definitely worth a Sunday binge.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)