Jaadugar Movie Review: Jitendra Kumar’s sports drama has its heart in the right place but lacks magic

Unlike the predominant sports dramas which have a set template of underdogs scripting miraculous history in the third act, Jaadugar stands apart for its rather rooted and justifiable climax
Rating:(2.5 / 5)

Early in Jaadugar, magician Chabbra (Manoj Joshi), the Dronacharya to Eklavya Meenu (Jitendra Kumar), tells the latter that love makes one believe in magic and that both love and magic have the ability to make the impossible possible. But he also asserts that only a person who sincerely loves is capable of doing magic.

These golden words drive protagonist Meenu in this slice-of-life sports drama. Set in the backdrop of Neemuch town, on the borders of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Jaadugar meanders through two main plot points: Meenu’s yearning to find the love of his life, and his locality's (Adarsh Colony) lifetime dream to win the Dhabolkar trophy in the local football tournament. The worlds collide when the magician is forced to pull a footballer out of his hat to support his colony team in the tournament. 

Director:Sameer Saxena

Cast: Jitendra Kumar, Javed Jaaferi, Manoj Joshi, Arushi Sharma

Streaming on: Netflix

Director Sameer Saxena seamlessly incorporates third-person and first-person narratives as part of world-building and character establishment in Jaadugar. The film begins with a reporter narrating the football history associated with the town and how in 1951, a player from Neemuch named Srikanth Dhabolkar, won the Asian Games with the final penalty kick. It is in his memory that the little town hosts the annual inter-neighbourhood tournament. 

Soon after, we embark on Meenu's journey as we see him fleet between wanting to be a Kulfiwaala, a bridegroom, and finally... a magician thanks to Chabbra’s show. We also see how Meenu is the son of a local football hero, and how the tragic death of his parents triggers his aversion to the game. However, the game doesn't quite leave him as Meenu stays with his uncle Pradeep (Javed), who is currently the coach of the Adarsh Nagar football team.

Meenu is not the “typical hero of Hindi cinema”. He is flawed, clueless, and afraid of losing people in his life. But his sorted life takes a U-turn when his childhood girlfriend, Ichcha breaks up with him. In search of the real meaning of magic and love, Meenu falls for another girl Disha. This leads to a situation where he has to either choose his relationship or his “family” — the football team.

Scenarist Biswapati Sarkar, who has been associated with the TVF team for Permanent Roommates and TVF Pitchers, among others, continues the legacy of bringing freshness in the writing in Jaadugar too. Over the 167-minute runtime, the characters of Neemuch town become household names. Another noteworthy aspect of the film is inclusiveness: The football team has a female player and an oppressed lad from the lower strata of society, and this is not showboated but incorporated organically. 

However, Sameer’s directorial venture lacks the high points that are required of a sports drama. Ironically, there is nothing magical about Jaadugar either, and the lethargic pace, never-ending expositions, and unshakeable monotony are just too big a problem to look past.  

To give credit where it's due, Jaadugar avoids cliches like underdogs scripting miraculous history in the third act and opts for a rooted and justifiable climax. Having said that, the creators could have spent a little more time focusing on building a few crucial components, such as the character conflicts, the team's growth, and sportsmen's spirit, which form the basis of a sports drama.

For instance, in the final tournament, Dipa, the female player, takes up the captaincy to save the team after being insulted by her opponents. This should have ideally been a 'goosebumps' moment but the scene had no sheen. Similarly, the scenes between Meenu and his uncle Pradeep are sloppy at best. Considering some of the most important sequences in Jaadugar revolve around them, their equation is hardly engaging, and the same holds good for the Meenu-Disha portions that fail to strike the right chord till the very end. 

Even when the film falls flat in some places, it is Jitendra who conceals it with his effortless charm and nuanced acting. It is also refreshing to see Javed, fit and fab in the 60s, acing the coach’s role in Jaadugar. The frames of Soumik Mukherjee and Nilotpal Bora’s music breathe life into the town of Neemuch. 

At the end of Jaadugar, Meenu gets to perform the “real magic” on the football ground, as he resonates with Chhabra's golden words, which are paraphrased from Baazigar — “Asli Jaadugar Dil Behlane Wale Ko Nahi, Dil Jeetne Wale Ko Kehte Hain.” Jaadugar strives arduously to win our hearts, but just that it needed a lot more jaadu and a lot less baazi.   

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