A Touch Of Magic
A slice-of-life love story that meets its goal
The success of the web series Panchayat—a rooted, old-world,quietly funny show about an engineering graduate who becomes a Panchayat secretary in a UP village—has created a fan following for actor Jitendra Kumar, who many movie viewers first saw as Ayushmann Khurana’s lover in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.
Kumar is likable and direct even when he plays irritable or frustrated characters.He expresses a distinct, wide-eyed personality even though he seems so down to earth, so much a part of the crowd, that Amol Palekar might look like Greta Garbo in comparison.
Playing the lead in the new film Jaadugar,Kumar retains that affability even though his character, Meenu, is close to being a narcissist, someone who often claims to be in love—and probably means it—but is too self-absorbed to listen to what the other person is saying.A running joke involves his cluelessness about important information because he hadn’t been paying attention when it was repeatedly relayed to him. Kumar’s goofiness is on display in these scenes—like the one where he accosts a girlfriend’s family on a train, thinking they are trying to get her married—but one can understand why the women are so exasperated. “Tu sunnta nahin hai na?!” (You just don't listen, do you?!)exclaims a no-nonsense eye doctor named Disha(Meenu’s latest crush,played by Arushi Sharma) in a particularly funny moment.
Meenu lives in a small town (Neemuch,Madhya Pradesh)known for its soccer culture. His late father was a footballer who had aspired to win the town's premier trophy with his team, but the son has no interest in inheriting his dad’s dreams. Instead he is obsessed with magic,and performs conjuring tricks at birthday parties and wedding functions. Meanwhile his uncle (nicely played by Javed Jaffrey, with a stammer that might have been actorly showboating in other hands but is well done here) needs his help to complete a football team of no-hopers.“Dil jeetne waale kokehte hain jaadugar,” (“The ones who win one’s heart are magicians”) goes a line in the film, and the narrative finds a way to connect love for magic with love for football,and to throw in regular romantic love as well.After one girlfriend walks out on Meenu,he falls for Disha,but there are complications which stem from her relationship with her father. And, ultimately,a demand that will test Meenu’s probity.
This means Jaadugar has a lot going on, but somehow that doesn’t matter, anchored as it is by the pleasant lead performances and a feel for its small-town milieu. Most of the team members’ quirks are depicted with economy and humour (Hemant the goal-keeper can stop a bullet with his right hand, someone says; but can’t stop even a snail with his left), and the bantering two-person commentary during the matches is often very droll (“The Upaj Mandi Tradersteam don’t even give discounts on their products, why will they concede a goal?”).Biswapati Sarkar’s script has some nice little surprises, mini-twists and tonal shifts.
And amidst all this there is also a palpable sense of achievement when the Adarsh Nagar team draws level with an opponent for the first time ever—before going on to bigger things, aided by such underdogs as the team’s only woman player and a talented outsider. And, of course,the young magician who has to learn to grow up and listen.
This isn’t a grand tournament, and this is very far from a sports film full of grandstanding speeches—it’s about a small pond. But that doesn't mean the frogs in it, all dealing with their own struggles,can’t have pride and ambition.