Netflix’s Jaadugar has a magical cast that scores a lot of points. But it keeps shifting the goalposts

MAgic, chaotic and heartwarming, Sameer Saxena’s Jaadugar is an underrated Hindi entertainer that disgruntled Netflix audiences have been waiting for. Equal parts startling and engrossing, this new project from the fledgling Posham Pa Productions is sure to evoke heady emotions in its whopping three hour running time, which is a little lengthy for an OTT film – good and bad not entirely priceless.

Nestled between the borders of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the idyllic town of Neemuch never imagined it would land on the map of India, let alone as a Bollywood venture. But Saxena and writer Biswapati Sarkar have achieved this near-impossible goal by capturing the essence of small-town India — its broken streets, tinted matchbox houses, and seedy magic shows — and most importantly, its undying love and reverence for Gully. Sports.

jaadugar strives not to be a sports film – it aims to be a story of love, romance and self-discovery in which soccer between the colonies is a unifying factor. It tells the story of “Magic Meenu” (Jitendra Kumar), a good-for-nothing, rather cold-blooded magician who is desperate to win over his crush Disha (Arushi Sharma) and their celebratory magic father (Manoj Joshi) to his neighborhood soccer team to lead to “victory” with his below-average skills. The resulting confusion and hilarity form the core of the story.

It almost seems like Jitendra Kumar has found his niche and is sticking to it. Still, from the disgruntled secretary in Panchayat to the cheerful gay man in Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan, it seems the actor who made his name in TVF series finds joy, hopes, dreams and to represent small town ambitions. However, he says that all his characters are different from each other. “There are so many small town stories that need to be told. Who knows this better than a small-town boy from Khairthal, Rajasthan, whose true story also reads like a script?” said Kumar The grandstand in a 2020 interview.

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Fresh film, fresh faces

Apart from a few well-known names, jaadugar has fresh faces, and his focus on individual stories helps bring out their idiosyncrasies. Newcomer Raj Qushal, with his excellent comic timing, is refreshing as Lalli – Meenu’s flamboyant boyfriend with a penchant for women and “modded” bikes. In fact, the comedic moments between Meenu and Lalli make for some of the juiciest parts of the film. Add to that 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 about consent without sounding preachy. Disha boldly uses a persistent Meenu, and he slowly realizes his mistakes, holding him back in his pursuit of her. In one instance, Disha (roughly translated as ‘direction’ in Hindi) ironically gets lost off the path while walking home and is uncomfortable asking Meenu for help. Every time she moves in the wrong direction, Meenu rings his cycle’s bell to help her find her way, pretending it’s pure coincidence. This simple moment brings out the chemistry between the leadership couple while showing respect for personal boundaries.

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lose direction

But as good as it is, the jaadugar has its shortcomings. For starters, there’s a lot that Saxena and Sarkar try to cram into the film – to the point where it loses direction and steam. jaadugar‘s plot zigzags from romance to direction to family to sport to friendship and back to sport. As a result, the (nearly) three-hour runtime feels overwhelming and unjustified.

There are many loose ends that the duo forget to tie. Some characters are introduced suddenly, while others are built and forgotten. For example, we really don’t know what happened to Meenu’s magical assistant, Sklecha.

Nilotpal Bora’s score doesn’t work either and is boring at best. It arouses no emotions and is inserted at inopportune moments. A no-songs approach would have worked, too.

The film could have been almost perfect if it hadn’t touched on so many themes. It started well and was hilarious through and through, not to mention the rock solid cast doing what they could. But no matter how complicated it can be sometimes jaadugar is definitely worth a Sunday feast.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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