One of the common conceptions regarding artists is that they tend to be arrogant and selfish. In Luck By Chance, Vikram became manipulative and grew cold towards his girlfriend Sona after bagging a role in a film. If you somehow remember the forgetful Tribhanga, recall that there was a writer in the movie who ignored all domestic responsibilities and only stayed in her room throughout the day, writing continuously. In Sameer Saxena’s Jaadugar, Meenu (Jitendra Kumar) maintains this conception about artists. He is a magician who is so self-centered that he doesn’t even bother to know the surname of his girlfriends. During the typical romantic moments – you know, the ones where couples seem to be enjoying the company of their partners while a song or a voice-over is played – we think Meenu is smiling lovingly at his love interest, but we later find out that he was just lost in his own world.

Saxena and writer Biswapati Sarkar don’t hold back from filling us with hatred towards Meenu. He applies his tricks (like replacing a ball) on the football field not to help his uncle’s team but to make them lose quickly so that he can run away and do his business. This uncle is Pradeep (Jaaved Jaaferi), and he has been caring for Meenu since his parents’ death. Like Meenu’s father, Pradeep is a football player/fanatic who wants Meenu to take some interest in this particular sport. Meenu is not forced to become a football player (he doesn’t want to become one, as he holds the game responsible for the demise of his parents). He can become a magician if he wants to. Pradeep simply cares about winning the local football tournament so he can get the trophy as a tribute to Meenu’s father.

Meenu doesn’t care about his uncle’s dream. He only cares about himself and his magic tricks. He even gets into romantic relationships because he thinks, “Jo asli pyaar kar sakta hai, woh asli jaadu bhi kar sakta hai.” Meenu believes if he could love truly, then he could perform miracles. That would make him the best magician. His motivations for falling in love with someone are also self-serving. In fact, Meenu is so full of himself that he confidently throws cringe like, “Mai Meenu, raaton ki neendein chheenoo,” expecting it would impress the other person. One day, when Pradeep forcefully tries to take Meenu to the football field, he gets so angry he breaks a cabinet and says, “Aap kabhi nahi jeet sakte. Kyunki aap layak nahi ho.” This is a character you don’t want to interact with even for a second. Yet, Jaadugar keeps us with him for 2 hours and 47 minutes.

You stay, not for Meenu or to see if Pradeep’s team would emerge victorious. But because you like to notice the antics of the side characters. The movie gives them quirks and ensures they remain consistent. Lalli is an expert in providing wrong information and is obsessed with taking pictures of himself. When Pradeep comes to ask him to join the team, he makes him click his photos. Even during Meenu’s romantic dream sequence, he is seen posing for the camera. Then there is this one character who loves his brother-in-law so much that he only passes the ball to him. One of the commentators brings his personal problems to his commentaries. He remarks how a referee doesn’t change his decisions even when it results in your kid failing his class and that if a name could affect someone’s shape, his mother-in-law wouldn’t be called Aishwarya. Saxena guarantees a steady flow of jokes. He might not be great at building drama but he knows how to make us chuckle. There is a shirt that reads “Things Workout I Don’t.” When Meenu proposes to Disha (Arushi Sharma), the movie throws in two drunkards, and mines laughter from their reactions. It’s the gags, both big and small, that hold Jaadugar together.

Moreover, you might not like Meenu as a character, but you are fascinated by the fact that the actor is unafraid to come across as arrogant and hateful until the last few moments. He doesn’t emotionally engage with someone narrating her tragic past and attempts to undermine his team in the final match. There are times when you feel like shaking him up aggressively. But deep down, Meenu is a good person. There are two scenes where we see him acting selflessly. One has him moving closer to Disha when some boys on a bike pass by on an empty road in the middle of the night. In the second one, he rushes to the hospital after hearing about someone’s injury. As these moments are rare, Meenu mostly comes across as a villain.

In the beginning, when Meenu gets ready to kick a football, we expect the moment to be heroic. However, he slips and makes a joke out of himself. When Pradeep tells Meenu to score a goal if he wants to join the team, he prepares himself for a grand display of his skills. But in the next scene, we see him tired, and he begs to join the team. During one of his magic shows, he fails just when he is about to make a participant unconscious. The movie has a habit of hyping up Meenu and then mocking or defeating him. A similar approach can be found in the climax when Jaadugar leads us into thinking that Pradeep’s team will finally win.

Jaadugar aims for lightness, which is why it turns itself away from heavy drama and conflicts. The scene where a character gets drunk and commits suicide would have been too emotional in any other film. Here, it’s converted into an opportunity for rolling out more humor (his leg is merely fractured as in his drunken state, he doesn’t notice he is jumping from the first floor and that there is a thick grass waiting to cushion his fall). When Disha pecks one of the characters on his cheek, he says, “Sambhal ke beta, yeh love triangle na ho jaaye.” Given the kind of character he is, this moment would have indeed given way to a love triangle in any other film. However, in Jaadugar, this moment is brushed aside as a joke. When Pradeep refuses to attend the final match, a fan comes, cries, and conveys his adoration for him. It’s so mawkish that it prompts you to puke. As soon as the spectators start singing a song for Pradeep’s team after the last match is over, you wonder what Saxena (or perhaps Sarkar) must have thought before deciding to insert such a manipulative scene into the film.

The movie has some neat callback moments. At first, Meenu guides Disha by ringing the bell. Later, she tries to guide him the same way, but the bell becomes verbal this time. In one scene, Meenu, with a fake mustache and a turban, dresses up like Manoj Joshi’s character, who is also a magician (he even borrows a magic trick from him). You hear the Dhabolkar kick being mentioned in the opening, and you witness it near the end. Watch Jaadugar if you are a fan of either Kumar or Jaaferi, though one cannot deny the grace Sharma brings to the table. Still, the real highlights are the jokes as they manage to keep you in your seats for almost three hours.

Jaadugar is now streaming on Netflix.


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