Vidya Balan, in and as the eponymous jasoos? Sounds like a film right up my street. I somehow missed catching this in the theatres and then could not get my hands on the DVD. So when it showed up on youtube’s suggested videos last weekend, I had to see it right away. Even though it was 1:00am and sleep was threatening to get in the way. And I am glad that I watched. Yes, it is fun. Yes, it gets plus points for a story that focuses on a woman building her career and not letting such trivial things as cute men get in the way of her happily-ever-after. And yes, the film had its faults. But more on that later. First the good stuff.
Bilqis “Bobby” (Vidya Balan) lives in the crowded lanes of Moghulpura, a neighbourhood in Hyderabad’s old quarter. She comes from a traditional family, but her dreams are very unconventional. She wants to be a detective. And she’s proven her skills. Didn’t Saeeda (Zarina Wahab) employ her to find out about her daughter Afreen’s (Anupriya Goenka) secret boyfriend? She did find out about Afreen’s affair with Lala bhai (Arjan Bajwa). So what if she took the info to Afreen, instead of her client? She’s known Afreen since childhood and could not betray her to her Mom! Of course it helped that gangster Lala could pay her more money than Saeeda. Isn’t this what any good gumshoe worth her sole would do? And hasn’t she helped the dishy Tasawur (Ali Fazal) successfully avoid matrimony 34 times? Yup, she used her investigative skills to find flaws in all 34 candidates for Tasawur’s hand. But Vikram Singh Sodhi, of G-Force detective agency is not impressed. She has no proper training in detection, no MA in English (every good detective’s secret weapon?!), and no sophistication. His upper class clients cannot be made to deal with a ganwaar like Bobby. Nope, no detective jobs for our heroine in his top-notch agency.
Bobby decides that she will strike out on her own. But how? While she has no dearth of domestic cases coming her way, there are no meaty (and lucrative) mysteries for her to sink her teeth into. As if that isn’t enough, she also has to put up with her stern Abbu’s (Rajendra Gupta) relentless disapproval. Only her Ammi (Supriya Pathak) and Kausar Khaala (Tanve Azmi) seem to be supportive. Things change when a mysterious client comes to her with a case. Aneez Khan (Kiran Kumar), rich and enigmatic, wants Bobby to find Nilofer, a missing 20-year old. The only information he can supply is Nilofer’s date of birth and that she has a large birthmark on her hand. Bobby gets cracking on the case. She visits beauty parlors, scans birth certificates, and is by turns a street-side astrologer, a bangle seller and a student in English coaching classes – all to examine as many hands as possible. After days of tireless searching, she manages to find Nilofer.
Khan is presumably happy with Bobby’s work, because he promptly hands her another case and a wad of cash. Bobby needs to find another missing girl – 23-year old Aamna who has a distinguishing birth mark on her arm. This time, Bobby does a smart search. Instead of going out to examine hundreds of arms, she gets the arms to come to her for a fake TV-show audition. Several Aamnas show off their bare arms, birthmark and all, for the audition, and the missing Aamna is found with minimal fuss.
With her detective business going so well, Bobby decides to stop getting involved in petty domestic cases. She will not help Lala and Afreen by finding flaws in Afreen’s prospective grooms. And Tasawur is told to refuse marriage alliances himself. Bobby will no longer investigate his prospective brides. If he wants a bride commensurate with his TV-star status, he must find the courage to tell his father that. Bu-but, how can Tasawur refuse his father’s choices? He is a respectful son! Bobby tells him that that is entirely his problem.
In an attempt to stave off matrimony without actually refusing anyone, Tasawur comes up with what he thinks is the perfect plan. He tells his father that he loves Bobby and won’t marry anyone else. Pleased that Tasawur is willing to marry at all, his parents promptly approach Bobby’s family. Her Abbu is delighted and her family is very pleased. Who would have thought that the 30-year old Bobby could land such a catch? Tasawur, for his part, is confident that Bobby will refuse him. He can then play the broken-hearted lover and postpone his marriage indefinitely. But he has reckoned without Bobby’s quick temper. How dare he involve her family in his silly games? To teach him a lesson, she says yes, and the two are officially betrothed! Tasawur is flabbergasted. It’s all very well to get engaged in anger, he tells her, but is she really prepared to marry him? That brings her up short. But with all the missing people she has to find, she does not have time to think of silly engagements.
Aneez Khan wants Bobby to find yet another missing person. Bobby is over the moon. Such interesting cases and so much money! But a chance remark of Lala’s gets her thinking. Why is Khan looking for these people? Why is he prepared to spend so much money to find them? She doesn’t suspect him of dark intentions, but decides to check on Nilofer and Aamna, just in case. She finds that Nilofer has disappeared, perhaps forever. Aamna and her entire family suddenly left the neighbourhood and no one knows what’s happened to them. Shit! Khan is clearly up to no good. What has she helped him do to those poor girls?
O well… she’s a detective. She’ll find these girls and make Khan pay for his crimes. First thing to do is to examine his personal belongings so she can find out about him. But Khan is staying at a five star hotel and Bobby is wary of invading the posh air of the hotel without an equally posh sidekick. Naturally, she approaches the one posh guy she knows – Tasawur. And being Bobby, she needs must find a jasoos-worthy clandestine way of meeting him. So she uses a step ladder to visit Tasawur’s first floor bedroom. She promises that she’ll refuse to marry him if he will first help her search Khan’s hotel room. But breaking-and-entering, it appears, is not Tasawur’s thing. He absolutely refuses to help her.
Poor Bobby decides to commit the felony on her own. Things do not go well with her at the hotel. The helpful hotel staff refuse to disclose Mr. Khan’s room number without his permission. While she is racking her brain to come up with a solution, Tasawur comes to her rescue. He flashes his TV-famous smile at the dazzled receptionist and gets the room number. From there on, Bobby is in charge. She gets Tasawur to ask the cleaning staff to open Khan’s room, and the two start searching. Bobby comes across a notebook and a picture of a much younger Khan. She pockets them, but before she can investigate further, they are discovered by Khan. He has hotel security throw them out. And guess who sees them just after they emerge from the hotel, all disheveled? Bobby’s disapproving Abbu. The marriage, instead of being off, is now going to happen even earlier!
Tasawur is beginning to despair – the unwanted wedding appears more and more inevitable! Bobby tells him not to lose hope. She has a plan. That is not exactly reassuring. He knows all about her plans. They always land him in deeper trouble. And he is right. The more he tries to break free, the more he gets bogged down in his bogus engagement. But does he really want to avoid marrying Bobby? Isn’t it fun to be dragged willy-nilly into her weird cases? What would he do for excitement if he couldn’t break into hotel rooms or have Bobby come calling at his window in the middle of the night? And what about Bobby? Can she forget her cases long enough to notice how much Tasawur has begun to like her? And if she does notice, will she let it get in the way of her happy ending?
As a jasoosi story, this film does not work at all. The disguises, the masala-coincidences, the resolution of the mystery – they are all more in keeping with a 70s masala film. This being a twenty first century movie, the disguises are way better than those in classic masala movies, but they are not particularly intelligent. The mystery could have done with some smarter writing and interesting twists. However, as a backdrop to a rom-com, the mystery and detection work really well. Bobby’s single-minded approach to jasoosi and her investigative shenanigans are fun to watch. Her friendship with her office-mates/sidekicks (did they have to be men?) and her interactions with her family are really sweet. The budding romance with Tasawur is particularly well done. It helped that Vidya Balan fit the role to a T and Ali Fazal looked suitably fetching (and can act as well) for a romantic lead.
I loved that the film focuses on a woman who has career dreams. It’s not often that you find a masala-heroine who is not punished for her ambitions! Bobby gets to achieve the jasoos status she’s been craving, all through her own efforts, and has a ton of fun along the way. For that and the cute romance, I can ignore a lot of badly-written mysteries!