From a bearded old maulvi in the film’s opening scene, to a beggar, a bangle-seller, a giant-bosomed TV show producer, even a buck-toothed and balding palm reader, Vidya Balan assumes multiple disguises for her role as an amateur sleuth in Bobby Jasoos. It’s the kind of part a challenge-seeking leading lady would grab with both hands, and Balan sinks her teeth into it.

She plays Bilquis aka Bobby, a feisty 30-year-old, and the oldest of three daughters in a Muslim home in Hyderabad’s busy Moghulpura locality. Bobby wants to be a professional detective; she’s tired of taking small snooping assignments from suspicious wives and protective mothers. But it’s not a woman’s job, she’s reminded by her disapproving abba (Rajendra Gupta), and by the head of a private detective agency in the neighborhood, who turns her away repeatedly, insisting she doesn’t have the necessary qualifications. But when she lands a well-paying assignment from a mysterious man, Anees Khan (Kiran Kumar), to find a missing girl in the crowded city, Bobby is on her way to proving her naysayers wrong. Khan continues to pay her handsomely to track down young girls, until Bobby becomes concerned about his interest in these folks.

First-time director Samar Shaikh paints a richly textured portrait of Old City Hyderabad, complete with bustling markets, lived-in homes, roza-keeping families, and street-side eateries serving up piping hot biryani. The actors get their Hyderabadi accent mostly right, dutifully slipping words like tereku and kaiyo into their lines, also liberally throwing around such distinctly local barbs as “shaitaan ki khaala”.

The problems arise when the real plot kicks in, as Bobby embarks on a mission to uncover Khan’s secret, recruiting local TV anchor, and a client of hers, Tasavvur (Fukrey’s Ali Fazal) to help her. The investigation is all very simplistic, the sort that would make Arthur Conan Doyle turn in his grave. It’s also sadly lacking in thrills. As for the big reveal in the end, it turns out to be a whimper. Bobby’s own romantic track with Tasavvur plays out interestingly, but the narrative is weighed down by too many songs.

Fine actors like Supriya Pathak, Tanvi Azmi and Zarina Wahab get bit roles as assorted mums and aunts, but they bring an authenticity in dialogue and performance that the film benefits from. Ali Fazal holds his own alongside Vidya, but Arjan Bajwa is a laughable caricature as the kohl-wearing neighborhood goonda. Expectedly, it’s the film’s leading lady who is the star performer here. Whether goofing off with her motley bunch of accomplices, or making an impassioned plea to her stubborn father, Vidya is consistently watchable without ever hogging your attention away from the story.

It’s a shame then that she’s let down by the very script itself, which – despite raising important questions about gender equality, financial independence of women, and parental obsession with marriage – fizzles out post-intermission. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Bobby Jasoos. It needed more humor and more meat, but Vidya Balan comes out tops again.

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