Tuck Jagadish review: heartless Nani saves village amid wobbly drama

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(Spoiler alert)

In the first eight minutes of Tuck Jagadish, a Telugu-language drama directed by Shiva Nirvana, four men are horribly murdered, in separate incidents of land disputes. Scenes of betrayal, sharp lamentations and rough handling in a village ruled by a brutal landlord. However, in the ninth minute, the film changes its costume to become a comedy. The hero’s return. Jagadish (Nani) enters a shiny car, displaying deadpan humor. In his sumptuous house, he finds a horde of relatives who, like diligent performing artists, introduce themselves one by one and perform a soap opera melodrama. The background score oscillates unevenly between cutesy and optimistic.

In Tuck Jagadish, emotional continuity is as petty a concept as subtlety.

At the center of the film are two feudal families. Jagadish, the descendant of one of the families, possesses a ridiculously high version of righteousness. In one of the first scenes, he is seen carefully caring for an injured poultry. At the same time, Veerendra (Daniel Balaji), the head of the Second Family, is a bloated villain who flexes his muscles and clenches his teeth for reasons as minor as a moaning baby. A murderer without remorse, the latter is also a habitual sexual harasser. He controls the local land revenue office, the center of the film’s conflicts, using money and muscle.

Veerendra is the yin of the Jagadish yang; a rude villager diagonally opposed to a modern educated man who likes to dress as if he’s ready for the office at all times. When the villain sets out to seize the agricultural plots of the peasants, the hero abandons his childhood and assumes the role of guardian of the village.

Tuck Jagadish belongs to the new Telugu cinema which borrows elements from the old left cinema Erra which portrays the struggles of the peasant community in the region, not because it approves of the latter’s ideology, but because it has the look cool. In a first scene filmed as a joke, the hero and his friends dress up as Naxalites and assault a corrupt officer in his official guesthouse. In a pivotal scene, Jagadish urges the peasants to confront Veerendra and claim their right to work on their land. A folk song about farming begins in the background, only to morph a few lines later into a devotional song that praises the late owner (Nasser) and his suave, educated son. Like in movies like Maharshi, the landlord is not a despicable entity in Tuck Jagadish, but a redeemer, an overseer of reforms.

There are plenty of twists and turns in Tuck Jagadish but, thanks to unimaginative writing and staging of scenes that make the story chaotic, none of them are convincing. The pivotal scene of the revelation is inserted into the narrative in the silliest way, likely to have the most loyal mass-movie viewer say, “Really, now ?!”

And Jagadish is not a character who deserves to be compassionate or to root for. He does not undergo a journey but remains motionless and detached throughout the story, like a demigod fed by his lineage. From time to time, he remembers his childhood, his sparkling eyes and a piece of sentimental music played in the background. However, the flashback bits show an indescribable childhood, nothing worthy of the viewer’s attention.

The film’s most precious secret is the duality of his personality. For viewers who might feel disappointed with the hero’s aversion to violence at the start of the scene, the film offers several freebies in the second half of the narrative. Jagadish unleashes a bloody assault on the bad guys, chopping off limbs and shattering bones while making sure to keep his facial muscles still and his hairstyle intact. Don’t be fooled by the tucked-in shirt and sophisticated manners of the young owner, the film gladdens as he can perform gravity-defying stunts and carry a sickle like any masala movie hero.

Nani, whose greatest strengths are his comedic timing and a natural charm that thrills him in romantic comedies, stiffens and mimics his lower contemporaries, turning Jagadish into a lifeless cliché. The court scenes featuring him and Ritu Varma, who plays a junior officer in the land revenue office, are boring. The actors’ performances seem lukewarm, as if they sense the romance is under their characters. Varma, a solid actress, is wasted in a role where she plays the hero’s sidekick who watches him with admiration and pride at regular intervals. Additionally, the film has Aishwarya Rajesh, a fantastic actor, in a supporting role that could have been played by a table lamp.

What makes mass movies work are the little things – inverted clichés, quirks synchronized with the internal logic of the narrative, and a hero who knows his strengths. Tuck Jagadish has a masala exterior, but he uses the wrong mix of sentimentality and a display of righteousness to tell the story. There is no intelligent or vivid moment to review in the narrative. All there is is pervasive blandness.

****

This Tuck Jagadish the exam is a Silver screen original article. It was neither paid for nor commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its authors have no commercial relationship with the films that are reviewed on the site.


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