Synopsis – Magic Meenu, a small-time magician in Neemuch, M.P., has to win a local football tournament in order to marry the girl he loves.
My Take – Another Netflix release which released five days ago along with the Jane Austen adaption, Persuasion, and received immense critical bashing is this Hindi-language sports drama.
Yet knowing that the film had its roots in The Viral Fever (TVF), the popular YouTube channel that created a variety of entertaining content and pioneered the web-series format in India with the brilliant series like Pitchers and Permanent Roommates, I had to watch it. And honestly, I did not regret a single moment.
Sure, the film is flawed and overly long (167 minutes), however, director Sameer Saxena and writer Biswapati Sarkar bring the whimsical, earthly humor that we know and have become so accustomed to love from the brand. While the film may be termed as a sports film, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor does it go way over-the-top and skillfully fuses disparate elements of football and magic to make you fall in love with its characters.
In its essence, the film is more in the vein of a romantic comedy, or a coming-of-age story, but its biggest success is how it allows these three genres to run with each other to entertain the viewer. Resulting in an engaging slice-of-life cinema that sincerely embraces clichés and addresses complex issues of commitment with unvarnished charm.
Set in Neemuch, a small town on the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border that loves football, the story follows Meenu (Jitendra Kumar), a simpleton, who despite being the son of a late legendary footballer, hates the game, and instead inspires to be a famous magician on the lines of his idol, Chhabra (Manoj Joshi) and marry his girlfriend, Iccha (Rukshar Dhillon). However, when Iccha dumps him in the account that he is too self-centered and obsessed with his capabilities than listening to others, Meenu finds himself lost, as according to Chhabra only a true lover can perform true magic.
That is until, things change for him when he once again falls in love with the latest resident of the town, Dr. Disha (Arushi Sharma), that too in a matter of weeks, and doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. In a twist of fate, Meenu self-seeking ways finds him becoming a part of their colony’s football team, coached by Meenu’s only surviving relative and uncle, Pradeep (Jaaved Jaaferi), a team that hasn’t won a game in years, yet kept alive as it was his late brother’s dream to win the Dabholkar Trophy.
The biggest winning quality of the film is how it embraces the usual tropes we would associate its protagonist’s coming-of-age story and the sports narrative of a team of underdogs. The screenplay inserts these clichés, takes a few predictable turns using them and then veers towards some nice surprises when we least expect them.
The film’s beauty lies in its simplicity and depiction of the protagonist’s transformation from a self-centered individual to someone filled with compassion. The narrative takes time to build up, further slowing down along the way, but not without entertaining the viewers with witty dialogues, endearing moments and some amazing magic feats.
However, the biggest surprise comes in the form of Meenu who isn’t exactly the hero that we may want to root for. In a sports film you’re always rooting for the lead actor to end up victorious, but hardly does one end up coming up with a story where the lead character has much more to do than just win on the ground. Though he is a good magician, but not really the best at intentions. He claims himself to be a romantic, but he is hardly the attentive boyfriend.
Till the near end, he is obnoxious and self-centered, looking for his own ambitions over the rest. Thankfully, the film chooses a route that makes his transformation rather believable. The challenge that requires him to play football may sound outlandish, but in the scheme of things, it makes sense.
Sure, considering its run time, the pace slackens in the second half and could have benefited from a tighter edit, but considering how director Sameer Saxena and writer Biswapati Sarkar manage to hold one’s attention for most part of the film it’s a minor flaw. Also commendable is Soumik Mukherjee’s cinematography that brings the small town alive onscreen. Whether it’s the outdoor scene of the football ground or it’s the indoor scenes of the characters’ homes, the essence of being set in a small town comes out very nicely.
Performance wise, Jitendra Kumar, well-known in the OTT space as Jeetu, nails every mood and nuance of his character seamlessly blending into the small-town milieu, and carries the film on his shoulders confidently. Jeetu is soon becoming the messiah of small town comedies. Arushi Sharma of Love Aaj Kal (2020) fame is quite likeable as the female lead, and holds well against her scene-stealing co-star in their budding romance.
Jaaved Jaaferi wins your hearts as the determined coach with a slight stutter. Manoj Joshi, as the senior magician, also comes up with a great turn. In supporting turns, Sameer Saxena, Raj Qushal, Raksha Pannwar, Shoan Zagade, Sandeep Shikhar, Rajiv Nema, Purnendu Bhattacharya, Dhruv Thukral and Rukshar Dhillon win hearts. On the whole, ‘Jaadugar’ is an earnest underdog sports drama with likable performances and a heartwarming screenplay.
Directed – Sameer Saxena
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 167 minutes