BOBBY JASOOS. Director: Samar Shaikh. Players: Vidya Balan, Ali Fazal, Kiran Kumar, Rajendra Gupta, Supriya Pathak, Tanvi Azmi, Zarina Wahab, Arjan Bawja. Music: Shantanu Moitra. Hindi with Eng. Sub-tit. Theatrical release (Reliance).

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Director Shaikh got his technician chops working in the background of such hits as Dhoom (2004), Bunty Aur Babli (2005) and Dhoom 3 (2013). Transitioning from technician to calling the shots with his directorial debut in Bobby Jasoos, this much is certain. While Bobby Jasoos may not go to garner any huge following, it does employ a script gimmick or two and breaks from convention long enough to give Shaikh’s film a worthy pause.

Bumbling, meandering and sometimes anemic, Bobby Jasoos is nevertheless an acceptable detective-comic drama that works mostly because of Balan’s presence.

Bilqees Ahmed, aka Bobby (Balan) is smugly unsure of only two things. One, she is not sure if she is interested in romance, men or even kissing. Two, as an aspiring self-trained p-eye, private detective for those not in the know, she is equally unsure if it’s only a matter of time before she stumbles on to a Big Case that will change her fortunes. Whittling away her time spying on cheating spouses and digging up dirt to throw would-be arranged marital alliances into disarray­­—all for a fee, Bobby’s life indeed takes a turn for the unknown when a mysterious benefactor (Kiran Kumar) hires Bobby to trace down a number of missing individuals.

Bobby’s home life—a father (Gupta) not supportive of his oldest daughter dallying in non-feminine detective pursuits, a supportive mom (Pathak) and an always-questioning step mom (Azmi)—overlaps Bobby’s so-called circle of clients, all of whom exist not so peacefully in a working class Hyderabad inner-city neighborhood. Helping a dashing budding TV star (Fazal) fend off unwanted suitors may be one thing. How one of her sister’s relationships with the thuggish Lala (Bawja) may be connected to Bobby’s new mysterious client may be a whole another matter.

Balan is one of few performers that can inject a pseudo-real street credibility by going from homebody to streetwise sassiness with the same ease that Bachchan could go from suit and tie to t-shirts and bellbottoms. In pursuit of her prey, er, cases, Balan’s Bobby drags up various disguises—everything from a burqa, a buxom uppity auntie, a butch cart attendant hawking bangles at the corner bazaar, a beggar and an idiotic astrologer with buck teeth. Witnessing Balan’s Bobby disappear into no less than five different masculine characters is as much a testament to Balan’s versatility as it is fun to watch.

The Muslim social was a distinct sub-genre in the age of romantic Hindi movies. At their height in the 1960s, this genre tapped into a rich vein of delicately constructed melodramas such as Mere Mehboob (1963), Ghazal (1964), Mere Huzoor (1965) and Mehboob Ki Mehndi (1970). As late as 2000, there was Fiza that featured principal characters who were incidentally Muslim. Bobby Jasoos is a nice nod to a genre that, after 9/11, had all but disappeared. While not in the same class of romantic trappings captured in the titles from the 1960s, it is refreshing to catch a neutral-perspective snapshot of middle class Muslim life in a secular country such as India.

As a frothy urban backdrop, Shaikh captures Hyderabad’s crowded bazaars beautifully. On a side mission to track down a certain biryani house where a specific catering order was delivered from, Bobby and her kin must sample every biryani house within shouting distance. The resulting tour of the city’s biryani houses offers stops at a mouth-watering array of post-card worthy biryani joints. Bobby’s detective agency name might as well be Biryani and Gumshoe!

Assamese singer Papon does absolute wonders with Shreya Ghosal on the gorgeous duet “Teri Mera Afsana.” Richly overlaid with qawwali-like contours, Moitra’s composition is an ear-worthy tune. Just as he did with the “Piyu Bole” number from Balan’s debut in Parineeta (2005), Moitra displays a polished style. While Balan’s role is not as weighty as what she assailed in Kahaani (2012) or No One Killed Jessica (2011), Bobby Jasoos still ends up in the plus column for her.

EQ: B

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