BOTTOM LINE: Music And Performances Elevate The Otherwise Sketchy Storyline
|Platform: Amazon Prime Video||Genre: Musical Drama|
SkinNSwear: No skin show; a fleeting scene of intimacy between lead pair; an abundance of expletives
What Is the Story About?
Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik) is the gifted grandson of the tough taskmaster and unbending patriarch of the Jodhpur Rathore Gharana of Music, Pandit Radhemohan Rathore (Naseeruddin Shah). Panditji, as everyone calls him, looks upon Radhe as the torchbearer of his musical legacy, the one destined to assume the exalted mantle of the Rathore Gharana. And for most part, Radhe lives up to Panditji’s rigidly high expectations – for he is truly gifted. Save for when he falls in love — with the diametrically opposite musically-inclined, upcoming YouTube pop star, Tamanna (Shreya Choudhry). His love for Shreya, as also his family’s precarious financial conditions, compels him to do something that is akin to blasphemy in Panditji’s rigid rule book – he uses his musical knowledge outside of the traditional classical realm for commercial gain. Even as the Rathore household threatens to be ripped apart by the ensuing crisis, Panditji’s questionable past raises its ugly head to throw up a new challenger to the throne of the Rathore Gharana of Music in the form of Digvijay (Atul Kulkarni). As the Rathore Haveli is torn apart by the conflict between modern machinations and puritanical passions, will Radhe rise up to the challenge and embrace his prodigious talent and musical legacy?
Naseeruddin Shah is brilliant as the rigid traditionalist, married to his unyielding, lofty and conservative outlook to music. His Panditji exudes a powerful though pathos-ridden aura of a man who commands respect due to his unquestionable musical excellence. His body language is flawless, his expressions a study in the art of expressing a multitude of emotions using just the features of the face. If he does falter somewhat, it’s in the convoluted lip sync and facial movement requirements of the complex raga renditions, aalap ascends and bandish binges. Atul Kulkarni shows the same fallacy in an otherwise refined and restrained performance. The man speaks volumes even with minimal dialogues. Sheeba Chaddha, as Radhe’s mother Mohini, completes the triumvirate of sparkling performances in Bandish Bandits. Strong yet vulnerable; silent yet eloquent; subservient, yet with a mind of her own, Sheeba Chaddha’s portrayal of Mohini is one of her defining performances. Her expressions convey so much that dialogue simply wouldn’t.
Ritwik Bhowmik, as Radhe, does good to hold his own amidst the bevy of powerhouse performers. His earnest performance stays with you long after you’ve binged watched the series. It is a lasting, impactful portrayal. Shreya Choudhry fails to make an impression in the first few episodes. Her outgoing, bindaas Tamanna seems contrived and over the top. It’s in the later episodes, when she confronts her lack of real musical skill, that she truly finds her rhythm. That’s also when she impresses most. Rajesh Tailang, as Radhe’s meek, long-suffering father, and Amit Mistry, as Radhe’s uncle, both tormented by Panditji’s exacting standards and stern love, are commendable additions to the cast.
Rahul Kumar, Millimetre of 3 Idiots, has done a fine job as Radhe’s no-nonsense, C-word spouting friend, Kabir. Kunaal Roy Kapur is terrific as Tamanna’s agent cum friend Arghya. He is a delight to watch. Like always, he proves that he’s one of the best we’ve got. And he’s got the best lines of the series.
We begin watching Bandish Bandits, expecting it to be a love story between two people from different schools of music, accompanied by a clash of musical genres. At least that’s what the logline of the series lets on. But that is hardly what Bandish Bandits is all about. The love story of Radhe, a simple small town guy who sleeps, breathes and lives classical Hindustani music of a particular Gharana, and Tamanna, a sassy, with-it wannabe pop star, who lives her life in the glare of social media, is but a minuscule, though significant part of the series. Bandish Bandits is more about a clash of ideologies, a tussle between puritanical musical tradition and new-age bastardisation of age-old music templates. It is a clash between two musical maestros, studded with long-drawn jugalbandi battles in the classic style of old Bollywood movies such as Baiju Bawra, though certainly not as grand and affecting.
Panditji balks at the so-called fusion music fad. He calls all music outside of the classical as ‘noise’; shuts his ears with derision at notes that go remotely out of tune, even his own family’s; and refuses to play to the galleries, even if it brings in much-needed moolah. His poor family has to bear the brunt of his unyielding practices. Burdened with debt as a result of a business misstep, they hustle to save the heirloom Haveli and scramble to retain the Gharana’s grandeur.
Radhe seems to be hewn out of the same mould as his grandfather. He admonishes Tamanna with a withering, ‘I’m a musician, you’re just an electrician’, his contempt for the auto-tune world of fusion music loud and clear. Yet, he catapults to Tamanna’s charms and they make beautiful music together. These portions are altogether too in-your-face and a tad bit tedious, especially the role-playing part in the second and third episodes. In fact, the sequences are a downright insult to the intelligence of viewers, with their simplistic storytelling — a bit of boyfriend-girlfriend role-play and voilà — Radhe manages to infuse just the right touch of emotional angst in his singing of the modern numbers! The writers could certainly have written a better way for the lead pair to meet and fall in love.
Another glaringly tedious sequence in the storytelling is Radhe’s forced engagement to Tridha Choudhury’s Sandhya. It stands out like a sore thumb in the otherwise compelling plot line. The entire plot point is totally avoidable, and could have been done away with completely. Likewise with Tamanna’s back story of being raised by a demanding mother (Meghna Malik). Of course, a lot of the diversions from the main plot are indispensable – Tamanna coming to terms with her mediocrity; Panditji’s essentially flawed misdemeanours of the past; Mohini’s back story, among several others. However, cutting out the unessential tropes would render a coveted result: a crisp, concise story that stays true to the sentiments it embodies.
Often enough to not be a one off, our filmmakers give in to the temptation of taking the leisurely, roundabout way to telling the tale rather than cantering along the shorter, crisper route. Ten, 40-45 minute episodes is a bit much, if we may.
The best portions of Bandish Bandits are the soulful musical interludes – Panditji’s tutelage, Radhe’s unrelenting riyaaz, Digvijay’s musical prowess, the musical face-off in the last episode — the music takes the series to lofty heights, making it an engrossing watch, especially for enthusiasts of Hindustani classical music.
All said and done, Amritpal Singh Bindra and Anand Tiwari have woven a fine tale of musical conflicts, heritage facing off against modernity, and a musical prodigy coming into his own. Adhir Bhatt and Anand Tiwari’s dialogues are compelling, while the latter’s direction is on point. Bindra and Lara Chandni’s writing is a bit sketchy. Some firm chopping off of redundancies would have done it a world of good.
As an aside, does a flawless rendition of ‘Garaj Garaj’ in Raag Malhar really cause clouds to thunder and shower huge drops of rain on transfixed listeners? A simple Google search tells us it certainly can. So, is Radhe as talented as Miyan Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Bilas Khan, Surat Sen, Meera Bai et al — all famous stalwarts recorded by History to have made it happen? A bit far-fetched, in our opinion.
That notwithstanding, Bandish Bandits is an eminently watchable series, with a markedly different storyline. It takes you into a different world altogether, one that the layperson doesn’t know much about, but nevertheless, soaks up the sentiments eagerly. It is a refreshing departure from the done-to-death, dark, violent series, irritatingly ubiquitous on every streaming platform these days.
Music and Other Departments?
The music of Bandish Bandits is the indisputable star of the show. Shankar Ehsaan Loy have done a fantastic job with the classical music as well as the fusion bits. Shankar pours all his immense classical expertise into the music of Bandish Bandits. The purely classical compositions of Garaj Garaj, Sajan Bin, Labb Par, Viraah are mesmerising, while the fusion number Chhedkaniya is peppy and uplifting.
The cinematography by DOP Sriram Ganapathy is stunning. His camera has perfectly captured the staggering beauty of the quaint and ancient Havelis, the grandeur of Raja Sahab’s palace, the hypnotizing landscapes of the outskirts of Jodhpur, the vibrant colours of small town Rajasthan, the hypnotic sand dunes, surrounded by miles and miles of barren desert. The opening montages of Bandish Bandits are some of the best in recent times. An aerial shot capturing the haunting beauty of the sand dunes is truly memorable.
The stunning camerawork
The memorable performances
The mesmerizing musical sequences – the riyaaz, training, renditions, bandishes, jugalbandis and the final face-off
Long drawn out plot, with several inconsequential portions
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
Yes, Bandish Bandits is definitely a watchable musical drama. Simply hit the fast forward button on the tedious bits, like I did.
Bandish Bandits Review by Binged Bureau
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