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As was the case with his last film Barfi, appreciating Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos takes a lot of patience. One’s fortitude should not be tested.

In the film, Ranbir Kapoor plays Jagga, an imaginative rip-off of Harry Potter and Tintin — an orphan schoolboy with the acute foresight to piece clues together. Oh, and he cannot speak, but expresses himself with relative ease when singing.

Did I mention that Jagga Jasoos is a musical adventure? Silly me.

Basu’s penchant for handicapped characters — and his love for classic cinema — is an impediment in the way of the casual viewer. Like most auteur filmmakers (and let’s be fair, he is one), his personal whims get taxing.

Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos drags like the first Monday of an off -season

The result is an overindulgent film that sounds narratively correct on paper, but drags like the first Monday of an off-season. No matter what you do, nothing interesting happens — even though a lot is happening.

Basu, who also writes and produces with Disney India and Ranbir, is aware of the film’s crucial first act. He treats it with respect and a flair for theatrics, introducing a young Jagga in an orphanage.

One day Jagga, who till then hasn’t said a word to anyone, finds a man stumbling off from a moving train. He is Biplab Bagchi (Saswata Chatterjee), a mysterious Bengali man whose past is a feeble mystery for the audience (primarily because Basu unravels everything at every turn).

Bagchi calls himself a man with a tooti-phooti kismet, who Jagga rhymes with Tutti-Fruity. Bagchi thus becomes Jagga’s “Tutti-Fruity” — his dad. No matter the connection they share (and Basu makes sure that we do care about them as a family), one cannot see the logic of an on-the-run man adopting a child.

There’s greater depth to all of characters in the film, but the director — who is not adept at keeping mysteries in a mystery film — keeps them ambiguous. I know this sounds confusing — and it is. But only because he makes it so.

They do not get to spend a lot of time together, because Tutti-Fruity gets caught in intrigue and disappears, abandoning Jagga to a beautiful countryside boarding school. Jagga’s only link to Tutti-Fruity is the annual VHS cassettes he sends on the boy’s birthday.

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Jagga, meanwhile sharp as a tack, finds other ways to keep himself away from depression.

This town has a clock tower (a computer-generated one for the most part), and Basu uses the landmark to set off a series of mini-adventures for Jagga. Like an Enid Blyton novel (author of the Children book series’ Famous Five and Secret Seven), Jagga solves the “Case of the Clock Tower,” about a man’s infidelity that leads to murder.

His second case brings a less-than-bright journalist named Shruti (Katrina Kaif) into the mix. Shruti is investigating a Naxalite weapons conspiracy and catches Jagga’s attention. This is where the film gets darker — though, you may not know this at the time from the film’s tone.

Basu’s choice to make Jagga Jasoos a mix-genre musical is a radical miscalculation. The film’s soundtrack is something out of old Hollywood, not Bollywood (think: Mary Poppins or Sound of Music). The score and the songs — written by Amitabh Bhattacharya and Pritam — as good as they are, never stop, and the audience lose focus of the characters and their sense of adventure.

Ranbir, as good as he is playing off-the-wall characters, also gets lost in the jumble. As Tutti-Fruity, Saswata Chatterjee is excellent — as is Saurabh Shukla, a blackmailing intelligence officer. Katrina makes faces but looks cute from time to time.

You know there’s greater depth to all of them, but Basu — who is not adept at keeping mysteries in a mystery film — keeps them ambiguous. I know this sounds confusing — and it is. But only because Basu makes it so.

A crisper, leaner, cleaner storytelling would have made a world of a difference here. But then again, do people who know they are “geniuses” really care about us common folk?

Actually, I think Basu knows, and is kicking himself at every goof-up. But once the film is in the can, there is little one can do.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 23rd, 2017

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