Jagga Jasoos Review (NO SPOILERS): Behind the High Concepts, The Emperor Has No Clothes

I already put up my SPOILER review, which was supposed to be the no spoilers review but then I veered in another way.  So now I am finally doing the No Spoilers!

We all know what “high concept” is, right?  It’s when you come up with a very original easily communicated idea to build off of.  Like, “It’s an action TV show but it all takes place within 24 hours and each episode is one hour of the day”.  Whereas “low concept” is when you stay with a really simple idea that will require multiple subtle variations and character work to make it stand out, like “a murder mystery writer investigates a murder every week”.

The thing is, the “high concept” and “low concept” ultimately meet in the middle.  The story is the story, the characters are the characters.  The “concept” is just a writing tool to get you started.  Some writers work better under constraints, the “high concept” is a challenge to get them started.  And sometimes a crutch to lean on when they don’t have any ideas besides the concept.

Image result for jagga jasoos poster

(“Ranbir and Katrina go to Africa and ride an ostrich” is very high concept.  “Ranbir and Katrina sit down and have a conversation” is low concept)

To put it in upcoming movie terms, A Gentleman looks very high concept.  Incredibly complicated plot but, based on the trailers, the director wants it that way and is excited to experiment and play around with the possibilities of the idea of two identical guys, one a super spy and one a boring office worker, being mistaken for each other.  On the other hand, Jab Harry Met Sejal looks very low concept.  Mostly just about two people hanging out, not plot elaborations.  Which is also good, the bits we have seen really sell their chemistry, we wouldn’t want to be distracted from watching them by plot complications.

 

The key with a low concept film is to manage to build minor events up into a natural flow until a plot emerges from the low stakes common situation.  Dear Zindagi, for instance, is a classic low concept film.  Woman goes to therapy, events occur.  That’s it.

The key with a high concept film, whether the concept is setting or style, is to move past the concept into something deeper.  Paheli, for instance, starts out with this idea of a ghost falling in love with a human woman.  But from there, it just turns into a woman falling in love with a man she isn’t supposed to love.  And we come to care about the characters for themselves.

Which brings me to this film!  The concept is original-ish.  A teen detective story framed by a book release with a child chorus.  Oh, and lots and lots of sung/spoken dialogue.  And a kind of bright comic book style look to it.

But, see, anyone can come up with a high concept.  Here, I’ll give you 3 right now: a world where all the women are purple and all the men are green; an entire movie that takes place in a movie theater with the big screen behind the characters reflecting their emotions; a movie set entirely in heaven.

Image result for defending your life

(no, see, this was in heaven’s waiting room.  I mean actual heaven)

The idea is easy, the execution and turning it into more than just an idea, that’s the hard part.  Here’s one that worked really really well, Pleasantville.  Starts out with the idea of a modern brother and sister being pulled into a black and white idyllic sitcom.  And then expands to question what it means to be awake, why change has to come to the world, all kinds of incredibly big ideas that really truly required this concept to work.

To put it in Indian terms, what about Paa?  I’m not saying it’s the perfect movie, but the “gimmick” of Amitabh playing Abhishek’s son was a little more than a gimmick, it was the best possible casting, it allowed the director to explore the idea of father-son relationships in a new way, and overall it was still in service of the story, not the other way around.

The thing with high concepts, especially in your face style ones like Basu likes to use, is that they can kind of blind you to the emptiness inside.  Think a really really pretty actress that it takes people a long time to realize is actually not talented.  And think how you, a person who maybe is not susceptible to female beauty, get SO FRUSTRATED by how blind everyone else is.  That’s how I feel about this movie.

Basu took a so-so grab bag of ideas from Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Adventures of Tintin, and a handful of other films.  And then he found an a few gullible producers to throw money at them, enough money to make them all look really really pretty.  And now there are a bunch of gullible reviewers looking at it going “Look!  It’s different! And expensive!  It must be good!”  Emperor’s new film syndrome.  And I kind of feel like the small child going “Yes, but the film is empty on the inside!  There’s no there-there!”

(Except Pritam.  Pritam manages to put a there-there whenever one of his songs is playing for real, instead of some stupid chopped up sung/talked thing)

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49 thoughts on “Jagga Jasoos Review (NO SPOILERS): Behind the High Concepts, The Emperor Has No Clothes

      • They’re doing that. But the weather is insufferable and there’s the first large pocket-money to spend and maybe girls and boys to woo. Half the kids packing these theatres for these mediocre films are buying the ticket just to hook up you know 😛

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        • Oh yeah, used to work at a movie theater. Always a fight to see who would have to interrupt that couple in the back row of the late show. No one wants that job. Second only to throwing out the drunk guy who fell asleep (it was a neighborhood theater in a not very good neighborhood)

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          • Hah! Try being a member of the audience going there with family! This phenomenon is one of the reasons why we need to have big opening weekends. 😁

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  1. Wow, it is one thing to not like a film and be vocal about the disdain. To then come across as incredibly opinionated and even condescending at those who happen to like it, that is something!

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    • Not sure if you meant me or Asmita. But I think it was a general comment about the kind of audience that would tend to buy tickets for this release date. Not anything particular about Jagga. Just like the Dilwale audience will be assumed to be mostly families, and the Christmas audience will be school kids on break. The audience at the beginning of a school term for any film might include kids who just want to see something at the mall because they have money right now and it is hot out and they are excited to be back with their friends.

      Which was interesting to me! I didn’t even realize it was the beginning of a school term, and considering this film was released primarily in urban markets and mall type theaters, I think Asmita might be right that they were hoping to pick up this kind of audience. Again, without judgement on the actual film (beyond that the filmmakers thought it might do well with this audience), or on audience members who aren’t part of this demographic and still wanted to see and enjoy the film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No sorry I was specifically going off your concluding and dismissive paragraph in the actual post. Like I said earlier on a different post, it is not as if the makers deliberately never bothered to try harder or anything. Sometimes I find people don’t even acknowledge how difficult it can be to be able to just tell what may or may not work. Even Prabhas mentions it in one of his interviews about how Rajamouli seems to be one of those few god like directors who seem to have that audience pulse bang on but for the rest of the lesser mortal filmmakers it is always going to be tough.

        So yes I suppose I didn’t like you terming the producers and favorable reviewers as gullible. Disney are not the kind of easily impressionable studios surely. And I do not recall any of the well known critics liking the movie overall either. It is not as if Basu was just lazy in the execution of an idea that he was able to convincingly sell to Disney. Just that it hasn’t worked. He has good enough earlier projects to be afforded that leniency and trust even.

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        • I don’t understand why you’re sooooooo ticked off by an unfavorable review for this particular film. There’s nothing condescending about calling a mediocre film a mediocre film and calling reviewers that tend to give reviews based on the names associated with a film rather than the film itself “gullible”.

          It’s in very bad taste to call those who happen to hold different views than yours “opinionated”. You’re coming off rather mansplain-y there. If you like the film so much please feel free to share with us all exactly what makes this particular film so amazing. That’s what we’ve all been doing on this blog so very patiently. We’ve been backing our opinions with evidence.

          PS, let’s not act like Indian filmmakers don’t have an issue selling us crappy films. And why should one be lenient about a bad film based on the past good ones by the guy? That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.

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          • I thought it was clear my objection was only for being judgmental about those who may have liked it. In my book it is ok to call a mediocre film mediocre but not extending that adjective to those who may like it as well for whatever reason. Art is subjective and all that.

            What I meant by lenient is more benefit of doubt. I’m only disagreeing with the notion that Basu managed to somehow hoodwink his way or oversell an obviously flimsy plot to start with. Trust and benefit of doubt is something that is earned and I just pointed out that to any big studio he can definitely be seen as having a good track record and so taking the leap with him.

            Don’t know about you but I got the impression that M is faulting Basu for trying to simply hit and hope with this kind of attempt and is insulting for viewers by design itself. So crux of it is that my guess is this was a sincere attempt from them. M and you think not and that is fine of course. Just don’t term me gullible for it!

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          • Why are you objecting at all? I still see that you haven’t provided any evidence about the film being great with actual analysis of why you liked it. Please tell us those. Otherwise you’re just being judgemental for no reason at all.

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          • Rajamaoli has his own niche. He does his own thing and it works. Sometimes it works big. Someone’s it doesn’t. If his next film is bad, people should be allowed to call it bad and not just let him off easy because he’s done good in the past.

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        • Disney India is going bankrupt. Ranbir himself has said in quotes that this production was a disaster and he will never produce again. Siddharth Roy Kapur got fired. Even if the film was an artistic masterpiece, and makes gobs of money, they were still foolish and, yes, “gullible” to greenlight this kind of film which would cost way more time and money than they could afford. And which somehow got completely out of control, despite having Disney, UTV, and Ranbir Kapoor all there supposedly supervising it. I say the same thing about Fitoor, about Tubelight. If the film goes over budget, so much so that it can never make it’s money back unless it is a massive hit, that is the fault of the producers being foolish. Compare it with, say, Aditya Chopra. He hasn’t had a hit in almost a year. But he also hasn’t lost any money. Every film is budgeted for a guaranteed profit, and stays on budget.

          And I wouldn’t call the audience “gullible”, I would call the reviewers “gullible”. As an audience member, you aren’t worried about looking foolish in front of your fellow reviewer friends, or convincing your readers that you are smarter than they are. You are just watching it and liking or not liking it. It’s the kind of peer pressure/status thing that I don’t like. Which comes into effect for professional reviewers in a way it doesn’t for regular audience members and makes them vulnerable.

          On Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 2:32 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I was under the impression it is not always possible to get budgeting spot on. Sure at some point a difficult decision may have to be made as to whether it’d be best to cut losses and stop production but that is again speculative in that who can tell the future? Hindsight of course is convenient. I do not understand how a producer should be able to just tell that a production would ultimately exceed time and budget constraints before starting off and reaching that point. Heck even Bahubali far exceeded the initial projections manifold. It was just the faith that kept them going although sure I suppose it is far more prudent to gamble on Rajamouli than Basu, fair enough.

            All I’m saying is I’d much rather be less harsh on those who dare to attempt these kind of films which are the only way to experiment and push the boundaries of the industry to get out of the comfort zone of the kind of movies say Siddharth Malhotra or Varun Dhawan are making. If they’re only going to keep making fare like Gentleman and Judwaa then the producers are increasingly less likely to back more ambitious attempts like a Haider(worked) and Rangoon(failed).

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          • Budgeting a film is hard. But, to me, it is in the same level as, oh, landing a plane is hard. It is very difficult, but you better learn how before you take a job as an airline pilot! In the same way, correctly budgeting a film is something you should figure out before you decide to be a producer!

            And my irritation with them for greenlighting this project is because it is exactly the kind of film you can tell will exceed time and budget, or at least has a highliklihood of doing so. Multiple elaborate action set-pieces, a very unique look, and lots of overseas shooting. Right there, you’ve got a ton of VFX built in, and the possibility of going over schedule if any stunt goes wrong or the overseas schedule gets messed up. Which is in fact what happened. Compare it with, say, Rustom. Which was dirt cheap. Filmed entirely in Bombay, no big action scenes, and a period look that could be easily achieved with a few costumes and greenscreens. It’s not what I would have picked for Disney India when they are already on shakey financial ground, or for Ranbir as a first time producer. Oh! Another example! Ittefaq, coming up, is going to relaunch the BR Chopra studios and be the first production for BR’s grandsons. A cast of 3, only 2 sets, and a recognizable brand. This is a great choice for a first time producer.

            For me, and this is just a difference of opinion, but I am more worried about the future of the industry if they keep making these big leaps that fail. I would rather they make small leaps that make a profit. Because I don’t want to risk the entire Hindi film industry disintegrating and being taken over by Hollywood because there is just no money left any more. At least with little leaps, you never fall all the way off a cliff.

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          • Haider was based on one of the most successful Shakespeare plays out there. Haider rather proves that you can’t beat a good story. The treatment was well thought out and it was more in keeping with the line of previous Vishal Bharadwaj Shakespeare adaptions rather than a pure experiment.

            For More on how and why budget mismanagement hurts supposedly big productions, I found this for you :

            https://www.thequint.com/entertainment/2016/08/31/bollywood-studios-economy-disney-india-utv-motion-pictures-balaji-motion-pictures-dharma-shut-down

            Again, like someone else pointed out here, it is a business. If you don’t know how much a movie is going to cost you’re probably in the wrong business. It’s their job to know how much things should cost. One can’t stress that enough — it is their jobs to know!

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          • Seriously very well written. Makes a great point about how family run studios make more prudent choices than corporate-run ones.

            I remember this old Hrithik Roshan interview where he narrated the story how his family basically hit a very rough spot financially when he was young and his father basically pawned everything they had to make his next film and it turned out to be a huge success. I don’t remember what film he was talking about but I liked how it made the film industry seem so human and relatable.

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          • Have you checked out my nepotism post? It’s not really about nepotism, it’s about how film is a family business in the old fashioned sense.

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          • Well alright, I can’t really say it is fair to compare budgeting and landing a plane, and a somewhat experimental attempt like JJ to a straightforward low-risk one like Rustom.

            But yes they probably could have at least scaled back the ambition beyond a point sure.

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          • Exactly! Scale it back. Maybe still greenlight it (although I would still be nervous about an auteour like Basu controlling such an ambitious film). If I am a producer and someone comes to me with this idea, I will say “okay, it could work, and I like your ambition. But how about we make it just a little smaller. No overseas shooting, find a location for the second half within India that we can fake on soundstages. Cut 3 of the action scenes, and the opening sequence before the heroine arrives. And I’m sending someone on set to supervise and make sure you stay on schedule, you have to respect their authority.”

            On Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 6:32 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Hmm tbh I don’t know the first thing about what an actual movie production might entail so yeah don’t think I can hazard a if-i-were-a-producer kind of comment.

            One other thing for sure is editing and hence runtime though. There used to be a time when 3 hours for a desi film was okay like a decade or two ago but today with drastically shortening attention spans they really need to be convinced that a subject matter has enough to merit anything more than 2.5 hours.

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          • The big concern with length is showtimes. If you want to play it in a multiplex, or globally, where it will be sharing a theater with Hollywood films, it has to be close to Hollywood showtimes. A single screen would be at a noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, and midnight showtime schedule, so the shorter films are a problem from there side of thing. It’s one of those things that tells you what kind of an audience the directors/producers are looking for, like the amount of English in a script. To have a high-English film with an Indian length is a risk.

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          • More than that I think it often comes down to how much independence/authority the editors have over the director who will of course be very reluctant to have portions chopped off especially ones that were hard to film or those that they strongly feel will dilute the impact etc. Most often I assume final creative authority rests with the director so it is those who are open to letting go or just trust the editors at times who might succeed more often.

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          • Actually, it is the producers who control the final edit usually. Again, not in this case, a sign of how out of control it got. Also, at least in Indian film, it is usually “edited” as it goes. That is, absolutely nothing is shot that is not going to be kept. A “good” Indian director is expected to be able to work that way. Just like a “good” Indian actor is supposed to be able to do everything in one take always. If you read interviews and stuff with filmmakers, they talk about having the whole film in their head start to finish before shooting starts, with nothing shot that is not used. And everything shot in one take. It doesn’t necessarily make better movies, but it is something that you could make as a requirement if you know the budget is going to be high and a director has a history of going over budget. Make him give you an exact shot by shot breakdown in advance, and tell him what he can keep and what has to go.

            and for the final edit, usually the producer, director, and sometimes star are all sitting together on the final edit. Aamir almost always sits in on it, for instance.

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          • Curious because I see more interviews and chat shows involving the film cast and crew than actual movies (!) and my impression is different directors work differently. A fair bit of improv is encouraged as well and some like everything to be perfectly planned like bound script etc while others prefer to only have like 80-90% locked in. Also in the current digital formats gone are the days when like you say it would be most cost effective if everything was planned to a T and no waste of expensive film stock and actors having little margin for error. These days what I gather is actors are encouraged to actively think about the character and own/inhabit it and bring their own viewpoints as well etc. And that might require multiple takes? You can hear a lot about how today’s directors wish their actors bring some independent thoughts of theirs as well to the table to flesh out the character out of the script into a living and real entity with a persona and stuff.

            That said I suppose the higher the budget the lesser the leeway and breathing space. Regular budgets like Raman Raghav and Badlapur might have more room for said experimentation compared to JJ and even Bahubali.

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          • I think you also mentioned that you don’t know much about budgeting, production side of films? That’s more where I focus. And on the directors who are less likely to give interviews, Aditya Chopra, Rohit Shetty, Farah Khan, Karan Johar, etc. There’s a different take on how things are done from that angle than from the interviews with the younger actors. Yes, digital cameras and directors who use them like Basu, Kashyap, Shakun Batra, have changed things. But that is just a small part of the industry.

            Like you say, it’s a budget thing. The smaller budget experimental films, with actors who are willing to experiment, can do that. But if you have a top actor with a tight schedule (not Ranbir, I’m thinking Akshay or a Khan or someone who has to run from personal appearances to commercials to awards shows all day long), they show up expecting to do their scene and be done. Not like they don’t also care about their character, but they meet with the director individually months in advance and work out all the character stuff before the cameras start rolling. I’m sure Prabhas did the same with Rajamouli, all of that discussion happened before there were a ton of technicians and stuntmen and everything waiting around for the cameras to roll. Shooting schedule is shooting schedule and it has to be obeyed. And again, that’s why I don’t think this film was a good idea. The combination of complex action sequences with an actor and director who like to improvise just seems like it was asking for trouble.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh and dude you still haven’t explained why you liked the movie so much that you felt the need to lash out at anyone criticising it.

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          • Yes, discipline is obviously important and they went way overboard with time and money in production for like over three years.

            Going by the I-knew-it or I-told-you-so type of reactions, I’d be very interested to see if anyone actually did go out on a leg and call them out in the leadup or before release. This is not the first time a film has ballooned out of hand nor will it be the last. And there surely have been many such times when a film went through production hell before coming out well too despite all the troubles.

            Not that Gentleman had such issues but going by the trailer I’ll go ahead and say it looks every bit a harebrained plot that is nothing new. Loosely Rab Ne was a similar plot of fun girl matched with boring guy and then there’s this alter fun avatar of same guy etc. But you guys seem to be excited at what you’ve seen so let’s see! btw I did like Rab Ne but never liked any of the JJ trailers and so the failure is not surprising. Gentleman success will definitely surprise me.

            Asmita I think I have responded with my view on JJ in the other spoilers post. I did NOT like it myself, but my stance all along has been with the WAY in which one reviews a film, not the review verdict itself. Saying colorfully how one hated a film is fine but then to extend that to how foolish the makers were in not seeing this coming (hindsight is always easy?) or blaming this for the lead pair breakup etc is what I disagreed with. But then again if one vents instead of writing a bit more dispassionately then this is to be expected and is fair game sure. This is a personal opinion blog after all and nobody is forced to read it either.

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    • How about the dismissive judgement of critics and multiplex viewers for the films that are liked by a wide cross-section of the audience? No shortage of disdain anywhere.

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      • Thank you! I think that’s part of what subconsciously influenced this review. If I have to suffer through review after review saying I am an idiot for enjoying anything with big song numbers and action scenes, then turnabout is fair play. More than that, no one would have commented or objected if I had written this way about, oh, Munna Michael next week. But because it is a “class” film, it is getting a lot more play.

        And there is the additional “punching up” concept, I’m not going to make fun of a “massy” film in the same way, because I can’t fully understand what might drive a mass audience to a film, and they aren’t my “people”. But this film was made for the educated Westernized types (as can be seen in the release strategy), so I am only criticizing my own community.

        On Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 12:39 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I still don’t understand what’s so wrong with calling a film that doesn’t work “a film that doesn’t work”. 😁

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  2. I kinda wanted to watch Jagga Jasoos but I couldn’t get any company to watch it this weekend. It wasn’t a really a movie that I wanted to watch alone so I ended up watching Spider-Man: Homecoming with a couple of friends that haven’t seen it yet. Even though I was watching the movie a second time this week, I still loved it!

    I’m going to be out of town for next few weeks so you’ll probably be seeing less of me around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have fun out of town! Don’t forget to watch Jab Harry Met Sejal! (you can skip Munna Michael)

      On Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 1:19 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the relatively civil discussion of different views in this thread. I have learned a ton! I’m a recent Hindi film fan, long time classical Hollywood fan, and I enjoy movies more with my heart than my brain. But I really enjoy thinking about the creating, funding, distributing, analyzing sides of it all sometimes too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting! And I am glad the discussion was enjoyable, I am so fascinated by the production side of things, and sometimes I worry that I am going down a rabbit hole no one else finds interesting.

      On Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 9:03 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 2 people

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