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From Ranbir Kapoor in Jagga Jasoos, to Salman Khan in Tubelight, stars aren’t afraid to experiment

Editor’s note: With Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan and Salman Khan’s Tubelight not quite hitting the mark in terms of box office success, there are some crucial question we found ourselves thinking about. Is Bollywood’s male movie-star bound by his ‘image’? What happens when stars experiment, and give their fans something ‘new’? What happens when their experiments fail and how do the stars themselves react to this failure? This is part two of a three part analysis on this very idea — what is bigger, the star or the image of the star? 

Also read parts one and two of this series. 

In the just-released Jagga Jasoos, Ranbir Kapoor plays a Tintin-esque detective. The film itself is cast in the mould of a Broadway musical, not seen before in Bollywood, and includes 21 songs.

Ranbir’s played varied roles before — be it the coming-of-age Wake Up Sid or the everyman in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, and even Tamasha. Still, Jagga Jasoos is an ‘experiment’ for the actor.

What’s interesting that this ‘experimentation’ is being engaged in by actors across the spectrum in the Hindi film industry. Just a few weeks ago, we had Salman Khan playing a man with developmental difficulties in Tubelight. While that film flickered out at the box office, it was an attempt on Salman’s part to do a role different from his usual larger-than-life onscreen image. Meanwhile, his contemporary Shah Rukh Khan is also trying something different with Aanand L Rai’s next, in which he plays a dwarf; while Aamir Khan has — yet again — transformed himself entirely for his role in Thugs of Hindostan. Images of Aamir sporting long hair and a nosepin are already doing the rounds on social media.

A mere four years in the industry, and a Varun Dhawan can pull off a Badlapur, while a Sidharth Malhotra an work on an experimental thriller like Ittefaq.

Ranbir Kapor in Jagga Jasoos; Salman Khan in Tubelight. Images via Facebook, Twitter

Meanwhile, Ranveer Singh can charm viewers in an offbeat Lootera and play a rapper from the streets in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boys. And an ‘outsider’ like Sushant Singh rajput can break into the Bollywood big league with unconventional films like Kai Po Che, Shuddh Desi Romance and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! 

Forty years ago, this would have been unimaginable. One could hardly conceive of an Amitabh Bachchan or Dharmendra — at the height of their superstardom — playing differently-abled characters in a film that had no romantic angle. There would always be a song-and-dance routine with a Rekha in Ghazab, or the metamorphosis of dim-witted Kallu into dashing Kaalia. They would, undoubtedly, give the greatest of performances, but in conventional vehicles like Deewar, Pratigyaa and Chupke Chupke.

But playing a differently-abled character in a realistic drama… well, that kind of experimentation was best left to a Sanjeev Kumar, as in the 1970 release Khilona. It was up to a Balraj Sahni to play a landless labourer in a stark drama like Do Bigha Zameen, while a Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor — as great as they were — displayed their histrionics in larger-than-life films like Mughal-E-Azam and Awara. Or Naseeruddin Shah, who played a visually impaired man in Sparsh, while Vinod Khanna or Jeetendra bashed up baddies and romanced heroines in their films. But today, if Randeep Hooda or Nawazuddin Siddiqui are experimenting with their roles, so are the big stars like Salman, Shah Rukh.

It is not at all a coincidence that Aamir’s Lagaan, a film where a major Bollywood star experimented with both form as well as content, came within a decade of economic liberalisation, exposure to satellite television and invasion of the internet, followed by the multiplex revolution. The audience was changing and the stars were quick to realise it. Aamir tried to follow the same experimental route with Mangal Pandey — and though it proved less successful, he continued down that route.

Shah Rukh made the attempt with Swades, although it was Chak De India that proved to be his first major ‘experimental’ success. He continued walking off the beaten path with Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan and more recently, Yash Raj Films’ Fan. Salman may have started late, but he seems to be making up for lost time with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Sultan and Tubelight. And if an Ajay Devgn has a Drishyam in his kitty, then Bollywood’s ultimate khiladi, Akshay Kumar has made it a point to pick unique subjects with films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Padman and Gold. 

These are definitely good times to be a Bollywood (film) viewer. We are fortunate to watch our favourite actors in unusual and experimental roles in an image-obsessed industry. As horizons have expanded, and tastes have evolved, it’s no longer a stretch for viewers to see their favourite stars go from playing the typical romantic/action hero to ageing wrestlers — or dwarves.

Jagga Jasoos: Anurag Basu opens up about Ranbir, Katrina and shooting without a physical script

Anurag Basu is one of those people who has the habit of finishing his sentences very fast while communicating. This only means you have to be extra cautious while listening to him, lest you miss out on words.

When I meet him at the Disney office, he seems relaxed in a blue floral half-sleeved shirt and loose trousers. Along with Ranbir, he has just delivered a succession of TV interviews and is still raring to go. The relaxed vibe could also be attributed to a different technique that he has been employing for his films.

Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in Jagga Jasoos. Image from Firstpost

“For both Barfi and Jagga Jasoos, I went ahead and shot the climax first. It gives you a sort of confidence and the entire film is clear in your head. I do this only because the climax of a film is the most difficult portion to shoot and if you are able to finish the most difficult portion first, then it’s like catching the bull by its horn,” explains Basu.

The germ of his latest venture Jagga Jasoos lies in his own daughter. After he showed Barfi to her and met with a disapproval, he was on the lookout for a subject that could appeal to his daughter and replace the Hollywood flicks synonymous with Disney and Pixar. Jagga Jasoos was thus born, a musical with a tinge of thriller.

The film also marks the second collaboration of Anurag with his ‘muse’ Ranbir Kapoor. “Ranbir is a great person and that’s why he makes a great actor” says Basu.

For the filmmaker, it was a task explaining the genre of the film to his investors. “It was very tough to explain, as there was no reference for this musical thriller. It was more like walking a completely dark path but then slowly as you move ahead, the vision became clear,” he says. Basu is a sucker for musicals and counts Mary Poppins, Sound of Music and the more recent La La Land as his favorites. He also cites a film that was made in his mother tongue Satyajit Ray’s Heerak Rajar Deshe, as one of his favourites.

To borrow words from Ranbir Kapoor, chaos is what best describes Basu’s sets. He reportedly never carries a ‘physical’ screenplay, as it’s all there in his head. Ranbir has admitted that when he was given the first narration of Jagga Jasoos, the entire movie was in his head but nothing on paper. “It’s just not possible to shoot a film without a screenplay. You have to have a graph with a beginning, middle and the end. You just cannot land on the sets and start shooting scenes. It’s just not possible. The script is definitely there somewhere, it’s either in the head, or in some drawer or in the back pocket of the director,” says the director, without revealing where he kept his script.

While the initial days of the film were marred with casting issues, there were also reports of some early scenes of the film being scrapped. As per Basu, only two small scenes were scrapped and nothing was reshot. The build-up to all this also resulted in negative publicity for the film.

“It’s difficult for both Ranbir and I to keep explaining and justifying. Ranbir is not on social media and I am hardly active. The film should speak for itself and there is no point giving justifications,” he clarifies.

Rumours related to Katrina Kaif’s commitment towards the film after her alleged split with Ranbir also did the rounds. Quiz Basu about it and he talks more about her professional commitments: “She has been amazing actually, and Ranbir and her compliment each other. They gave each other lots of space when on the sets. Both of them have behaved in a professional manner throughout the film.  It’s also very difficult for actors to give consistency when a film is in making for long. It was tough for them and they could have easily lost their interest.”

Basu also clarifies about the image of Govinda that’s been floating on social media these days. He clarifies that he did shoot with Govinda for a special appearance in the film, but because of some changes it could not find a place in the final cut.

Right at the helm of the film, I wonder what occupies the director’s mind. He jokingly reveals a grudge he has towards Ranbir. “I really want to work with most actors from the industry, but he is just not allowing me to. Kamina, karne hi nahi deta hai. There was a film planned with Shah Rukh Khan but something happened at the end moment, I am hopeful that after Jagga Jasoos it might just happen,” reveals Basu.

Jagga Jasoos trailer: Ranbir, Katrina rock a goofy avatar in this dreamy Anurag Basu film

Ranbir Kapoor says literally one line in the entire trailer of Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos (and Katrina Kaif says nothing at all) and yet the trailer speaks volumes about the film.

Before we spill our judgment of the trailer, here’s something one must acknowledge.

It’s a well made trailer, especially at a time when trailers have started to present the entire film on a platter. It’s one that doesn’t reveal too much, but much like a kaleidoscope, through fast moving images and moments, reveals the tone of the film, and what we can expect.

We are told from the official synopsis of Jagga Jasoos that a young detective sets out to find his missing father, and an unusual series of events unfold.

jj social 2

The trailer begins with an introduction to Ranbir and Katrina’s characters and while the film seems to be shot all over India, they first meet in Manipur. Ranbir is a quirky guy, and in essense, so is Katrina, and we are taken through a dreamy, whirlwind journey — with ostrich rides, bike rides through the dessert, races with elephants, and much more adventure.

The look and feel of the film gives you a whiff of Basu’s earlier movie with Ranbir, Barfi! mostly because Ranbir is seen in school clothes and as a hosteler. But then we see him in multiple avatars. Not much is revealed about ages, or any other character details.

However, with Disney producing the film, you definitely get a sense of watching a children’s film. Whether that is a pro or con for Jagga Jasoos, only time will tell.

Amid all the visuals, the last 30 seconds of the trailer *finally* reveal something about Katrina and Ranbir’s chemistry.

From Rajneeti to Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahaani, this is the first time they looked relaxed as two goofy but affable lead protagonists. Maybe the hype around their personal life has helped them on-screen much like Jab We Met worked for Shahid, and Kareena Kapoor.