Dir. Samar Shaikh
Bobby Jasoos is an adorable movie. It is not flawless; there is a measure of lazy scripting and plot elements that don't stand up to rigorous thought. But I do not feel inclined to be especially critical of it.
Movies like this are still fairly rare, though thankfully they are no longer unheard of. By "movies like this" I mean a movie about the self-actualization of a woman, a movie in which a woman has agency and makes decisions based upon her own ambitions and desires. I was very critical of Aiyyaa, which some people thought was a stellar example of such a movie; it missed the mark for me in a few crucial ways. In contrast I reacted to English Vinglish and Queen with as much emotion as analysis, and was very happy to overlook their flaws and just revel in the warmth and satisfaction of them. Bobby Jasoos is not as substantial as any of these - it is perhaps less ambitious. But it is a delight. It may not do everything right, but it makes no grave mistakes from a feminist perspective - there is no cringe-worthy, film-ruining misstep that undermines what is enjoyable and refreshing about it. That sounds like a low bar, but I don't mean it to be. I kept expecting an error analogous to the movie-killing ending of Ghanchakkar, except in the form of a spasm of an anti-feminism rather than a spasm of violence. It's all too easy for mainstream stories to be tone-deaf when it comes to women's agency, and Bobby Jasoos avoids a lot of potential pitfalls. (Remember Lajja, where three hours of stories of fierce, fiery women are capped by a big, strong, deus ex machina of a man who steps in with a machete to save the day for them?)
Among the most remarkable features of Bobby Jasoos is that its titular character Bilqis, known as Bobby (Vidya Balan), is thirty years old. This fact is not trumpeted loudly across the film nor held up as a self-conscious, self-congratulatory banner. It just is. Bobby is not especially concerned with the social demands ordinarily placed on one of her age and sex, and her Hyderabadi Muslim family bears her varying levels of hostility about this. Her mother (Supriya Pathak) has all but given up on getting her married, which is fine with Bobby, who would rather pursue her dream of becoming a big-shot private detective than worry about homemaking. And so Bobby's matchmaker aunt (Tanvi Azmi) focuses her efforts on Bobby's younger sister Noor (Benaf Dadachandji). But Bobby's father (Rajendra Gupta) sees her ambitions as gallivanting, shameful romping that brings a bad name to the family and interferes with finding a suitable match for Noor. Bobby's father is on the ragged edge of disowning her entirely; he refuses to speak with her, and snubs her various peace offerings.
At its best, Bobby Jasoos is about this relationship between Bobby and her father, and also about a very deftly handled romance between Bobby and Tasavur Shaikh (Ali Fazal), a local TV celebrity who is also a client of Bobby's detective gig. Tasavur has hired Bobby to track down dirt on a lengthy series of women with whom Tasavur's family has hoped to arrange his marriage. The scene when Tasavur makes his first appearance is one of the film's best. He makes his way single-mindedly across an outdoor market, distractedly fielding requests for autographs, with a nervous energy fixed on Bobby. Bobby, meanwhile, sees him coming and waits for him with a slumped, exasperated, "oh this guy again" affect. My immediate thought is that Tasavur hires Bobby to break up proposal after proposal because he wants to marry her; that is not quite the direction in which the romance grows but it says something about the chemistry that Ali Fazal is able to project in the direction of Vidya Balan.
I am surprised at this point by this fact: as much as I adore Vidya Balan, I am here talking about Ali Fazal first, before singing Vidya's praises. Ali Fazal is an absolute revelation in this role, the most adorable, appealing male lead I have seen in, well, as long as I can think of. There is not an atom of arrogance in his bearing or in the arc of the romance. The audience understands that he is in love with Bobby several scenes before he does. And from the moment that awareness dawns, he is all vulnerability and sincerity. He is just a pleasure to watch. It's hard to believe that a guy could upstage Vidya Balan - Vidya Balan! - in my reflections on a movie but Ali Fazal as Tasavur comes as close as anyone could. Watch Bobby Jasoos if just for this guy.
And what about Vidya Balan? Well she does a delectable job, of course, in a role that is not all that easy to play. Her main handicap is that Bobby is not an especially nice person throughout much of the film. Her chafing against her family is sympathetic, but her selfishness is grating. When a big case lands in her lap - a mysterious rich man (Kiran Kumar) throws gobs of money at her to track someone down, no questions asked - Bobby is embarrassingly uncritical. Whether this is a character flaw by design or a bit of lazy scripting is unclear, but either way, as clever and resourceful and spirited and bold as she is, Bobby is more than a little frustrating in the film's first half, and Vidya has a challenge to make her likable nevertheless. Whether she suceeds is, perhaps, a matter of personal preference; I like her enough to think she did, but rational Carla can see some room for just finding her annoying.
You'd like to think a movie about a detective would have at its heart a satisfying mystery, but here Bobby Jasoos falls especially short; this part of the story doesn't quite hang together. The script reaches an apogee of laziness in the final third, where Bobby picks up clues out of earshot from the audience. But the weakness of the mystery doesn't torpedo the film, which as I noted is more about Bobby's relationships than the details of her sleuthing. And the big win of Bobby Jasoos is that neither of these relationships requires a compromise of Bobby's autonomy to find its resolution. In a key scene in which Tasavur finds himself defending Bobby to his own father, Tasavur says that her drive and career-mindedness are what makes her special. Nor does rapprochement between Bobby and her father come with any promise, explicit or implicit, that Bobby will mutate into a different kind of person. That is the sense in which Bobby Jasoos most succeeds: Bobby gets to be Bobby, and remain Bobby - 30 years old, driven, part stupid, part smart, good-hearted, a fully actualized human being.