Bandish Bandits Review - Naseer channeling his inner Jasraj!
In Bandish Bandits, Naseeruddin Shah quietly channels his inner Pandit Jasraj, subtly playing the control-freak patriarch, obsessed by his art, and the issue of its inheritance
U/A: Drama, Romance
On: Amazon Prime Video
Director: Anand Tiwary
Cast: Ritwik Bhowmik, Shreya Chaudhary, Naseeruddin Shah
Right at the beginning of this ten-part series, with around 4o minutes an episode, actor Rajesh Tailang enters the frame, looking like he usually does, but breaking into a harkat/alaap, when you least expect it. Eh? It's a moment of unevenness that you come across a lot on this show. Because the singing/playback voices (of the actors) haven't been well-matched with their speaking voices.
Which, I guess, is also understandable, since it's not quite the same as matching characters to actors—such as the fantastic, young newcomers Ritwik Bhowmik, Shreya Chaudhary in lead roles. Voices of key characters must also sound like maestros of classical music.
Also bringing up Tailang, since the last time he played the father—literally out of the park, as it were—was in the Netflix show Selection Day, which was a unique peek into the world of Bombay cricket, a sub-culture we're all aware of, but know so little about.
Bandish Bandits brings to the fore another unique facet of Indian public life—the Hindustani classical music scene. In particular centred on guru-shishya parampara, and gharanas—usually named after erstwhile princely states, the chief patrons. Gwalior, if I'm not mistaken, is the oldest gharana.
This series is set in Jodhpur, in the corridors of Rajasthan royalty, which the West has caricatured and exoticised forever. To begin with, we're looking at a work more original than anything Indian I've seen lately—most of them have been desi versions of dark, dystopia about deaths or drugs, anyway.
Watch Bandish Bandits trailer right here:
This is much lighter in the head—a softer, pleasurable experience for viewers locked up in the times of COVID-19. One also hopes the research (by the rather sorted writers Amritpal Singh Bindra, Lara Ahsan Chandni) is spot-on. Because there's no way for me to know better. Even while getting annoyed by some randomness or slippages in the story-line, what's important is I'm willing to submit. Much like the actors (from Sheeba Chadha to Kunal Roy Kapoor). And that's good enough.
And yet, how do you get people interested in Hindustani classical music on screen when, apparently, there are such few takers for the real thing in an auditorium? Guess it depends on how you arrive at it. Bandish Bandits, among other segues, is a young-love story. What do you need to feel lost within such a genre? Simply a couple you care for, or at least are glad to watch together. The two leads (Bhowmik, Chaudhary) pass that test quite easily.
The girl's a pop-star in the western sense, amassing millions of followers online—dancing, lip-syncing offline. The boy's a musician in the purist mould, surrounded by a cast of morose characters within a family of musicians in an old haveli. Everyone constantly looks over from behind windows, while living within walls, within walls—operating in a niche (a particular gharana), inside a niche (Hindustani classical music). Sacrifice is at the centre of this family set-up.
What's there to not like about the easy, breezy girl in the series? Nothing. What about the boy? Loved the fact this character is from a small-town, yes, but with an inherent sophistication about him, which seems truer to life. Rather than a simpleton/bumpkin, as seen on TV, usually.
You can also tell the obvious conflicts here. What did I miss, through all of this though? Ironically, music—in a show that is all about the music! There can never be enough music, of course. But viscerally my grouse is not a single track playing in my head, after about 400 minutes of a near-binge.
No knock on Shankar Ehsaan Loy, who've composed the soundtrack. Just that going a little Gully Boy about it—playing with sounds of a new genre could've helped something stick. Thinking more along the lines of say the track Junun—an ear-worm ever since I watched a 2015 music-film, by the same name, set entirely in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Who's the director of Junun? Paul Thomas Anderson!
Of course that was essentially a behind-the-scene (BTS) music/concert/collaboration video. Bandish Bandits is full-on drama, underplayed to perfection in certain moments, and let loose in certain others (co-created and directed by Anand Tiwari, with utmost sincerity).
It's got a fine mix of highs and lows. But foremost, it keeps you hooked, because it asks some fundamental questions—about art and entertainment; creativity and commerce; egos and acceptance; confidence and delusion; young and old; mentor and pupil (Arjun and Krishna); insecurities and talent; West and East; drut and vilambit; auto-tune and falsetto…
Who better than Naseeruddin Shah to steer this ship/conversation, with his brilliant colleague for years, Atul Kulkarni, standing right behind—or opposite, as it were. A sangeet samrat (anointed king of his music), Shah quietly channels his inner Pandit Jasraj, subtly playing the control-freak patriarch, obsessed by his art, and the issue of its inheritance.
The care shows. Between theatre and film, as professional teacher and a working lead-actor for 45 years, few in the world have as dedicatedly served their art as much as Shah. When he talks about lung-control, or projection of voice, so it travels far; or indeed the role of an artiste being to express an emotion one hasn't necessarily lived—you feel like you're in his class, at once enlightened and entertained. Happy to have signed up.
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