“Bandish Bandits” – To start with, the title itself was quite intriguing as I was trying to guess the link between the two words. As I started watching the web series, now streaming on Amazon Prime, the mystery unraveled. The entire concept of this is about conflicts. Conflicts at multiple levels. Classical Music Vs Contemporary Music. Tradition Vs Modern. Old Vs Youth. City Vs Town. Liberal Vs Conservative. Boy Vs Girl. Mother Vs Daughter. My Ego Vs Your Ego. And finally, My greed Vs Your greed.
The interesting aspect of this web series is the freshness and novelty of the subject. At the same time, there is nothing new in many of the plot points and scene constructs in the series. Conflicted? Let me explain. You would have come across almost every important turn or scene earlier in our famed epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata or even other films. Just that “palace” intrigues are replaced by “Gharana” intrigues! Yet, a web series on Indian classical music as the backdrop is new.
Set mainly in Jodhpur in Rajasthan, the series has music as its central theme. The film has three heroes as per me. Shankar Ehsaan and Loy! For a web series with music as its theme, the trio has belted out high quality stuff not seen recently in Hindi films. They get quite a bit of space and don’t miss the opportunity. And importantly, they blend the classical and the pop in right proportions leveraging on the individual strengths of the trio.
Did I say three heroes? No there are four. The fourth one being Sriram Ganapathy, the DOP. The camera work is just brilliant and brings out the splendour of Rajasthan in its true glory. At times, you wonder if the state is really as colourful and regal as it is shown. If Rajasthan is looking for a tourism brochure, this is it. I really liked the helicopter shots of Jodhpur fort and the city with its sea blue patches.
Oops, there is a fifth hero. Swapnali Das, the production designer. The locations in Jodhpur have been made inviting in every frame with attention to detail. Every frame is vivid and rich in colours. The props, the sets and the design are pitch perfect. In effect, Swapnali and Sriram are in absolute harmony!
Director Anand Tiwari must be credited for bringing together and anchoring such a truck load of talent for this web series. It also requires skill and confidence to get such a high budget sanctioned for the project. Apart from the high technical quality, the director and his creative team take the cake for getting the cast right for every significant role. You have veterans and seasoned stars like Naseeruddin Shah and Atul Kulkarni. As Pandit Radhemohan Rathod and Digvijay Rathod, accomplished Hindustani classical singers, both get the body language and even the lip sync right most of the times. But the surprise pack to me were the two youngsters in the lead roles.
I was terribly impressed with Shreya Chaudhry, who plays the female lead role Tamanna with aplomb. The bubbly and effervescent character goes through a roller coaster of emotions, high and low points and is constantly battling her inner demons. For such a complex role, Shreya is at ease before the camera and pulls it off with amazing confidence. I am sure we will get to see her more in the big screen in the coming years. Ritwik Bhowmik, who plays the male lead Radhe is another revelation. He may have his limitations in terms of his range of emotions but for this role, he understands the needs and delivers. In particular, the scenes where he needs to sing and lip sync for the alaap and gamakas, he is earnest and comes across as a natural. He needed to be restrained most of the times in this series. We will have to see him in different roles to see his potential.
Sheeba Chadda in the role of Radhe’s mother doesn’t get to talk much. But her eyes convey a lot. Right from the first episode where we see her watching a music class session and counting the beats, we know that she is also an accomplished musician. But, we don’t see her sing or perform at all. Her back story is unveiled in the last but one episode and that’s where in another familiar plot point, she comes of her own. Another great cast choice.
One of the worst written characters I thought though, was of Tamanna’s music producer cum Manager, Arghya played by Kunal Roy Kapur. The character is loud and comes across as juvenile. His lines are crass and add no value to the role.
Coming to the script itself, I mentioned that we are in very familiar ground. But the musical setting is unique and that’s what make us stay engaged. One thread is about the blooming romance between a city bred girl (Tamanna) who is a Youtube sensation and a boy (Radhe) in the “Classical” mould from Jodhpur. The other thread is about redemption of the pride of the Rathod Gharana. The writing is of high quality and I particularly liked the way the characters get established in the initial episodes with just one line. For example, Tamanna says “You get just 1 second to grab the attention of millennials” and with that one line we get to understand her. She is a girl in a hurry, out to prove herself and the process to get there be damned. Similarly, Pandit Radhemohan Rathod tells the Maharaja, “What can one Samrat give to another Samrat but for a fond hug?” when he is asked what he would like as gift in return after a fantastic singing performance. We immediately get it that the Panditji is a man of very high self-esteem and ego.
I found the liberal use of English and Hindi profanities by couple of characters odd and out of place. The series is full of stereotypes and the makers make no attempt to break any of them. In fact, you will see the stereotyping getting more and more pronounced as the show progresses. These are minor issues in an otherwise well-made web series.
After a huge build up, the final episode where the competition for the redemption of the Gharana happens is bit of a let down, the fabulous music notwithstanding.
In Hindustani Classical music, Bandish is a musical term for a composition. And Bandits are outlaws. Can these both come together for a Jugalbandi? Can they co-exist? At the end of the final episode, all the knots are not untied. A few are. So, we still don’t get the answer to these questions. The makers leave a few knots open to be pursued in the next season. That little disappointment apart, Bandish Bandits is an excellent watch and worth the 400 odd minutes.