Saturday, July 12, 2014

NEW: Bobby Jasoos could've done with a bit more plotting

I had high expectations, especially after Vidya Balan herself talked it up to me in May and Dia Mirza was buzzing about it in front of me in April, and it’s obvious that Bobby Jasoos is high on many production values, most notably characters and their development.

What it’s low on: cohesion and continuity. For real.

It starts off with wonderful premise, 30-year-old Bilkis (Bilkis!) “Bobby” wants to be a detective in Hyderabad’s old city, but nobody will give her a job or even the time of day. (Unless you count TV news hunk Tassawur [Ali Fazal], who pays her regularly to foil his dad’s attempts at marrying him off.) And her family is certainly less than understanding as well, worrying about marrying her off or at least reining her in enough to get her sister married off.

But then it devolves into continuity errors, seriously uneven pacing and desperate attempts to wind all of the threads together. (Case in point: Mysteriously Threatening Bad Guy A, a gangster in love with Bobby’s childhood friend [whose name is not even consistent] whom Bobby sort of blackmails, turns out to be the son of Mysteriously Threatening Bad Guy B, who is paying Bobby to find girls in the city who then quietly disappear.)

It’s not a wonder after Kahaani that we expect big twists from Vidya, and I don’t know that she’ll ever top that one. But the twist Bobby pulls at the end to catch the guy I twice called “the worst bad guy ever” (aka Mysteriously Threatening Bad Guy B) was much better conceived than it was executed, and in the end the bad-guy-isn’t-really-so-bad is more annoying than satisfying.

But if you want more evidence than that, most of the songs feel like an afterthought, especially as there are only two — maybe three? they’re that forgettable — jammed into the course of the movie. One of them is the “oh, hey, I’m in love!” song … which happens at a hospital in quite possibly one of the most awfully placed “oh, hey, I’m in love!” revelation scenes ever. (I laughed. Heartily.) And the hilariously twisted Sweety — “Oh sweety, can’t you see I am dancing for thee?” replied with, “Oh, sweety, can’t you see I am running from thee?” — is a wonderful tack-on at the end; I only wish it’d had some counterparts more expertly woven into the story.

But more about what is right in Bobby Jasoos and how I wish it was carried on.

Bobby is a wonderful character, smart, caring and also totally zany and stubborn. She likes disguising herself, which turns out several totally awesome characters, too. This is where the movie really has fun and shows some thought, in Bobby constructing convoluted but smart plots to find the missing girls.

I was worried that nine-years-younger Ali Fazal (great in 3 Idiots, effing terrible in Always Kabhi Kabhi) would be too young/immature for Vidya Balan, much like Shahid Kapoor was for Rani Mukherjee in Dil Bole Hadippa. BLISSFULLY NOT SO. And major kudos to the cast for this convoluted romance mostly work.

Tassawur is a great turn on the stereotypical heroine: He’s the one whose beauty is widey admired, he’s a chicken who won’t stand up to his parents, he’s something of a silly sidekick roped into Bobby’s adventures, he falls in love first (with song!), he’s the one preoccupied with marriage (and wedding clothes), and he has to eventually accept Bobby’s attempt at reconciliation. All of this while being a real character.

But their marriage — which starts off as sort of a ploy on Tassawur’s part and becomes a bargaining tool for both parties — isn’t the main focus of the movie or of Bobby. In fact, it’s sometimes an afterthought and wedding planning is used as an excuse sometimes for Bobby to go about her detective work (especially in a fun little scene where she drags the womenfolk to every biryani stand around).
I mean, how is this "undeserving of marriage"?
This is, like most Vidya movies, a real statement about a woman’s autonomy. “I’ve always played women in control of their own lives,” she told me, and that’s the case with Bobby, which is the upside of a movie that’s about an empowered woman.

The downside: Many male characters make blatantly awful statements, most of which we cringe at but some of which become more annoying in that the ones that seem to warrant a response don’t get one. When Bobby’s father says, “This household doesn’t run on a woman’s income; I’m still living,” she just runs away without even telling him it’s Rs. 50,000. When Tassawur’s dad says to him (with Bobby overhearing via wire) that Bobby is “undeserving of marriage,” Tassawur makes a feeble reply that “being career-oriented is a good thing” and then expressly walks away to console Bobby, who doesn’t say anything. “You know how people are,” Tassawur brushes it off.

But frustratingly both fathers are mostly horrible (maybe even more horrible than the bad guy). They’re rude to their wives and treat Bobby like dirt. And then just carry on. There’s certainly something to be said for shrugging off the haters and for respecting elders, but it might’ve been nice if all of Bobby’s spunk didn’t suddenly disappear when she’s being insulted.

Another continuity error, less blatant than her name-changing friend and the movie’s tone and speed. But still annoying.