Bandish Bandits - jugalbandi of melody and emotion
From the first overhead shot of majestic Mehrangarh Fort that overlooks the beautiful blue roof-topped vista of the Rajasthani city of Jodhpur, then enters into an old haveli resonating to the early morning rendition of "Jaago Mohan Pyaarey" supervised by the sage presence of Naseeruddin Shah, I knew I was in for a special treat. It's a mystery how a show like Bandish Bandits, whose first season premiered on Amazon Prime last month, got greenlit in the first place. It has none of the tropes of other streaming series such as gratuitous sex, violence or language, nor thumping EDM or hip hop or Bollywood style songs. What it does have however, is a wonderful Hindustani classical soundtrack fused with some Indi-pop by composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and amalgamated seamlessly with a story full of heart.
Jodhpur boy Radhe meets Mumbai girl Tamanna (newcomers Ritwik Bhowmik and Shreya Chaudhry). He is the 3rd generation scion of a culturally-rich but cash-poor singer gharana joint family, she the lone daughter of an affluent nuclear family of separated parents, who has tasted Internet fame (is there any other kind nowadays?) with a breakout pop hit. The contrasts of family background, upbringing, affluence, milieu and musicality are defined at the outset. But whether it is out of plain curiosity or exploring aspects of someone else that are complementary to one's own, opposites attract, if not always in real life, then certainly almost always on screen, because the conflict makes for more compelling storytelling. While she is looking for a partner to collaborate on her next project, he is looking to impress his grandfather, Radhemohan Rathod (Shah) into becoming the star pupil and torch bearer of the gharana. Radhemohan is the overbearing patriarch who brooks no dissent, has little compassion and even less patience. His two sons, Rajendra (Rajesh Tailang) who is Radhe's father, and Devendra (Amit Mistry), and Rajendra's wife Mohini (Sheeba Chaddha), have no say in the running of the household, and have to rely on perennial subterfuge to have even a semblance of free will. Tamanna's parents, Harshvardhan, the doting dad (Rituraj Singh) and Avantika, the ambitious mom (Meghna Malik), are more one-note and stereotypical. The other two main characters are diametrically opposite in nature. Tamanna's perpetually frantically hilarious, silver-tongued agent Arghya (Kunaal Roy Kapur), and the calm, steely, uber-serious, silver-maned Digvijay (Atul Kulkarni).
The acting is of a high caliber as expected from veterans and stalwarts like Shah (credits too numerous to mention and leaving out any would be injustice), Kulkarni (Chandni Bar (2001), Dum (2003), Manikarnika (2019)) and Chaddha (Badhaai Ho (2018), Gully Boy (2019), Shakuntala Devi (2020)), but the show wouldn't work if the rest of the ensemble didn't pull their weight. They do however, with both debutants coming thru with earnestness, especially Bhowmik who brings both valor and vulnerability in equal measure. Rajesh Tailang (Delhi Crime (2019), Panga (2020)) plays the father/son caught in the middle trying to balance art and commerce with an aura of world-weariness and resignation, whereas Amit Mistry (Yamla Pagla Deewana (2011), A Gentleman (2017)) as his resourceful younger brother tries and makes lemonade out of the lemons life has handed him. Kapur (Delhi Belly (2011), Love per Square Foot (2018)), as the harried agent with no filter steals the show with almost every line delivered laugh out loud funny. The narrative arc of the screenplay, though of course following the underdog fighting the odds framework, still has enough torque in it to keep one engrossed. Finally, of course, the music which is the underpinning of the story. I am no great connoisseur or aficionado of Hindustani classical and wouldn't know the technical difference between a raga, a laya, a sur, a taal and a bandish, if they hit me in the face. But as an end user, I know what I like when I hear it. With the bulk of the male vocals by the mellifluous father-son duo of Shankar and Shivam Mahadevan and the female vocals by the effervescent Jonita Gandhi, whether it be the original compositions like Sajan Bin or the traditional ones like Padharo Maare Des, the music is befitting.
We watched the show as a family, reliving our visit to Jodhpur 9 years ago, and I knew my wife would enjoy it. I was pleasantly surprised though that my teen son, who has enjoyed many a mindless Rohit Shetty or Anees Bazmee comedy with his dad while mom pulls her hair out, not only sat thru all 10 episodes, but was actively engaged and enjoyed the music. That was music to my eyes and was where Bandish Bandits stole my heart.
September 26, 2020