As far as detective movies go, the only one I’m really looking forward to is Dibakar Banerjee’s reinterpretation of Byomkesh Bakshi. However, at least 8 months before that hits theatres, we have Bobby Jasoos, a lighthearted comedy starring Vidya Balan as the feisty Bilkis ‘Bobby’ Ahmed.
Bobby Jasoos, a movie whose title I shall refrain from abbreviating, is a well-intentioned film, set in Hyderabad. It looks, feels, and plays like a diploma film from the Rajkumar Hirani School of Filmmaking. Unfortunately for its debutant director Samar Shaikh, it’s not a project that deserves top grades.
This is a pity for several reasons, the biggest being that Bobby Jasoos is a return to form for Vidya Balan, who went from being called a ‘one-woman industry’ in 2012 to near oblivion after both Ghanchakkar (2013) and Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014) underwhelmed critics and audiences. As Bobby, Balan sports a catchy Hyderabadi accent and injects her character with infectious enthusiasm.
The eldest daughter in a lower middle-class family, she is loved by her doting ammi (Supriya Pathak) but on the receiving end of disdain from her father (Rajendra Gupta), who simply wants his daughter to settle down and get married. Bobby, however, is obsessed with the idea of being the number one private detective in the Mughalpur area of Hyderabad and spends much of her time solving mundane cases around the mohalla.
Her sleuthing career isn’t exactly on fire – aside from suspicious spouses and mothers who want to find out if their sons are smoking, Bobby’s biggest client is Tasawur (Ali Fazal), a young, up-and-coming TV personality who hires her to keep digging up dirt on the women with whom his parents keep trying to set him up.
At such a time, a mysterious man named Anees Khan approaches Bobby with a strange deal. Travelling in a fancy car with an ominous looking bodyguard, he offers her a large amount of cash if she can find a girl named Nilofer with a 3 cm birthmark on her wrist. Since he never smiles, it’s only appropriate that he is played here by seasoned antagonist Kiran Kumar, in his first role in a major Bollywood film since 2003’s LOC: Kargil.
So far, so brimming-with-possibilities and, to be fair, Bobby Jasoos isn’t difficult to sit through at all. The story moves at a brisk enough pace. Balan hits a couple of bum notes, but is mostly a delight to watch. A highlight is a scene in which she uses clotheslines to trap a goon and then admonishes him for his lack of stamina. Fazal’s theatre background shines through, as does his natural charm. The supporting cast – notably Gupta, Pathak, and Vinay Verma as Fazal’s father – is solid.
But of course, all this sounds too good to be true. Bobby Jasoos is a polished product that hides very basic flaws. Its entire premise, revealed at the end, makes no sense. Anees Khan’s motivations and methods defy common sense. The climax relies on expository flashbacks to back its ridiculous logic, giving the film the overall tone and weight of an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
This is not excluding the usual commercial film ingredients that exist to hold Sanyukta Chawla Shaikh’s patchy screenplay together, including unnecessarily omnipresent background music, out-of-place slapstick, a couple of pointless song sequences, and forced melodrama. This is a pity, given that the script also boasts of some nicely written scenes, such as a montage that involves a quest for the right Hyderabadi biryani.
Like Hirani’s films, Bobby Jasoos attempts to create its own universe, one that attempts to balance saccharine sweetness with controlled irreverence. The reason it doesn’t completely work here is because the universe needs rules governed by watertight logic, which is conspicuous by its absence.