As I began watching Jugaadistan, the latest original offering from Lionsgate Play, my heart sank. The show appeared to be about the education scam and my mind immediately went to SonyLIV’s recent series Whistleblower. Jugaadistan had a good cast and I thought it’d be a waste if it was ‘just another show on the exam scam’. Over the course of eight 40-minute episodes, Jugaadistan proved me wrong. (Also read: Jugaadistan trailer: Sumeet Vyas, Arjun Mathur and more come together for show on dark side of college life. Watch)
Jugaadistan is a show that cannot be assigned to any one genre. It is a campus drama but not as light-hearted as Netflix’s Mismatched. It is also a thriller about a large-scale scam but not as breakneck as Whistleblower . There is also a track on elections and rivalries, and even some cameos by popstars. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what Jugaadistan is.
But one thing is certain. Jugaadistan isn’t confused. The show promises to show you college life and show you all of it, from the romances to the campus politics and the examination scam as well. It is a cross-section of everything that goes on inside a modern-day college/university campus. And while the show hops genres far too often for my liking, it does so rather smoothly.
Jugaadistan tells the tale of students, teachers, agents, and activists of the fictitious university as they navigate their lives around the campus. From the good student caught in a scam to the campus politician and to the shady scammy agent or the idealistic journalist, the characters are drawn from people we have seen around us. The incidents are also drawn from reality. The campus in Jugaadistan is simply called City University but numerous references to Sarojini Nagar, Khooni Jheel, and U-Special buses make it quite clear it is a fictionalised version of Delhi University.
The writing on the show is decent but not special enough to keep you on the edge, as a thriller should. The campus feels authentic but even when the stakes are high, you don’t feel the characters’ dilemma or the danger they are in. You don’t feel alarmed at the deaths or angry at the betrayals. A story like this should draw the viewer and never let them hit the pause button. That is where the show fails to an extent.
The actors could have been the strength of the show, given the talented ensemble cast. But the only problem is that most actors are playing to the type. Ahsaas Channa is again a student, Arjun Mathur is at home as the man between a rock and a hard place, and the delightful Gopal Dutt is here for yet another lovable scoundrel act. They all do well but we have seen them in these characters before, maybe a bit too often. For me, the star of the show is Sumeet Vyas, who makes sure his student leader Gaurav Bhati does not end up being a caricature. We have seen the Haryanavi student politician on screen several times but Sumeet brings a combination of charm and realism that makes the character and his track engaging.
It was a refreshing surprise to see the talented Neelima Azeem as the vice chancellor of the university and one wishes she had more screen time. Similarly, Parambrata Chatterjee does justice to his role as the teacher getting a whiff of the scam. But the writing – and the abundance of storylines – means we never get fully invested in his journey.
In between pretending to be a campus romcom and trying to be a gritty thriller, Jugaadistan also finds time to be a Bollywood musical. The less I say about the aforementioned music acts the better it is. But I did not expect to see Mika Singh and Akasa perform original songs in a show about examination scam. That was, something…for the lack of a fitting adjective.
Despite its flaws, the show manages to entertain. Given its genre-hopping nature, it may just appeal to a wider section of audience than any usual thriller or campus drama would have. But having released in the same weekend as Ajay Devgn’s OTT debut, season 2 of an underrated thriller, an Amitabh Bachchan film and The Batman, it may find itself competing for eyeballs initially. Directed by Akarsh Khurana and Adhaar Khurana, Jugaadistan is streaming on Lionsgate Play from Friday, March 4 onwards.
Director: Akarsh Khurana and Adhaar Khurana
Cast: Sumeet Vyas, Arjun Mathur, Parambrata Chatterjee, Ahsaas Channa, Rukshar Dhillon, Taaruk Raina, Gopal Datt