For nearly two years, Indian campuses have been desolate, devoid of the daily commotion of adolescents attempting to make sense of their lives.
With the pandemic cramming campuses into 14-inch screens that can’t compare to the reality of on-campus living, a show about the many contradictory realities of an Indian institution feels pertinent. Jugaadistan, a Lionsgate Play original, is about a campus where everyone hustles, as the name implies.
In this show people who view education through the dramatism of desperation rather than the sobering aspects of reluctant aspiration, politics, love, conflict, and criminality collide.
The production is uneven at times, but it conveys the frenetic, absolutely unclassifiable spirit of the average Indian university through its various moving elements.
1. PREMISE AND CAST
Politics and Indian universities have recently evolved into feuding relatives who, in the end, cannot survive without one another.
Campuses, in fact, may represent a more lively political landscape than the towns and cities that determine the country’s electoral fate. As a result, an election in Jugaadistan is on the horizon.
Bhati, played by Sumeet Vyas, is a collegiate bully who is hell-bent on winning by all means. However, while campus election rages, several subplots combine to provide macro-sites of both comfort and conflict.
Lucky, played brilliantly by Taaruk Raina, is the mastermind behind an examination ruse in which students present on behalf of candidates for a fee.
As Khetrapal, a journalist portrayed by the fantastic Arjun Mathur, peers in from the outside, Bijoy, a professor on campus, played by the captivating Parambrata Chatterjee, looks further into the muck.
2. CHARACTER ANALYSIS
In a show where murder, scams, and investigations are also struggling to find their foothold, how do you depict the sex, vulgarity, and indiscipline that campus sites offer? Thankfully, none of these conflicting storylines contradicts one another, demonstrating that comedy can coexist with tragedy.
The existence of a maverick like Gopal Dutt as the face of a fraud cleaves the heaviness of a topic that could so easily transform the show into noir, whilst Lucky’s deviousness falls short of turning into wicked vice.
Mathur’s portrayal of a journalist who wants to do the right thing, on the other hand, adds conviction and grit to a premise that could easily end up trivializing its own origin tale.
3. OTHER ASPECTS
Jugaadistan’s biggest flaw may be its younger actors, who, while prickly and well-suited to their characters, rarely go beyond their stereotypes. Ahsaas Channa, in her role as a student, is competent but ultimately forgettable due to her past performances.
Lukram Smil’s Kenny, who is constantly harassed, required more meat to balance on the razor’s edge of racial politics with only a gut instinct for survival.
There’s an intriguing subplot involving Bhati and the local ‘influencer’ Aparna that alludes to the growing debate about reach and exposure in classrooms, but it falls flat since Aparna, portrayed by Kavya Trehan, doesn’t have much to chew on other than entitlement. In comparison to Bhati’s friendly, easygoing demeanor she automatically comes across as stiff and uncertain.
While the election is one part of this expansive tale, Chatterjee, and Mathur, two performers in their prime, operate head and shoulders above everyone in sight, shouldering the darkness.
Despite their limited screen time, both actors give gracefully honest performances in a series that may sometimes feel light due to its younger cast. This a word for Gopal Dutt, whose comedic sensibility and staged naivety are always a joy to see, no matter what show he’s in.
Dutt often appears in similar characters, from the frightening Delhi Crime to the ludicrously verbose Nadeem here, and manages to defy expectations.
4. FINAL OPINION
Though it can drag and sprawl unduly at times, the show manages to maintain enough freshness to keep you interested in what lies beneath its mishmash of genres and a few good performances by youngsters.
The play has enough talent in Vyas, Chatterjee, Mathur, and the always unforgettable Gopal Dutt to sustain even the most basic scripts if they all fire on all cylinders.
And, while Jugaadistan doesn’t always crackle or explode, it’s compelling enough to keep you interested in the outcome of both its personal and political struggles.
The latter is the focus of the presentation, but the former could have been fleshed out a little more. Nonetheless, Jugaadistan, while not constantly sizzling, simmers long enough to keep you engrossed.
Jugaadistan is streaming on Lionsgate Play