Updated: Aug 4, 2020 6:44:36 PM
Bandits Bandits cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Atul Kulkarni, Rajesh Tailang, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sheeba Chaddha, Amit Mistry, Ritwik Bhowmik, Shreya Chaudhry, Tridha Choudhary, Rahul Kumar
Director of Bandish Bandits: Anand Tiwari
“Ten seconds is what it takes to get the attention of millennials,” one character says to another in Bandish Bandits. That, in a nutshell, seems to be the mandate of Amazon’s new series: to make classical Hindustani music appealing to Gen X, and it colors everything from its clever title, to its tone and content.
Shot outdoors in Rajasthan and Mumbai, the series opens in Jodhpur, in the ‘aangan’ of a large haveli, where Sangeet Samrat Rathod (Shah) teaches. He is the crisp guardian of his “gharana” and one of those formidable teachers of Hindustani classical who demand and receive absolute discipline. Despite poor hearing, inevitable with aging, his word prevails: even his family, including his grandson Radhe Mohan (Bhowmik), also one of his most talented “shishyas”, address him under the name of Panditji.Next is Tamanna (Chaudhry), a beautiful designer-performer of studio music, and a counterpart of several equally attractive baits. Radhe takes her time but is genuinely enamored, although her acceptance of Tamanna’s “fad” flattery has more to do with saving her family from financial peril, than falling for “fusion” music. There we have it – the clash between old and new, modern and traditional, the music that is passed on as a ‘dharohar’ (legacy) from teacher to teacher, taught meticulously over the years. , to a faster form that emerges from synthesized sounds, “ragas” which are lovingly rendered by increasingly reduced “baithaks” and “sabhas”, into market sounds that can be amplified over a million gadgets .
These are important questions. And certainly worthy of a series, which attempts to strike a balance between the overwhelming influence that the diktats-in-stone guru has over Radhe (Bhowmick), and the corporate demands imposed on Tamanna, who is coming with a story of an ambitious and distant mother (Malik), and an overly loving father (Rituraj), and whose burning ambition is to sing along with a fictional global pop icon called Queen Eli.
At its best, the series indulges in the beauty and complexity of classical Hindustani music, as we hear the singers differentiate between a ‘teevra’ and a ‘madhyam sur’, Shah building a charming alaap, a old student (Kulkarni) who shows up half-way, and who has intelligently learned to actualize his classic talents, throw fast-paced “taans”. We also see the arcs of other members of Panditji’s family, the older beta Rajendra (Tailang), bahu Mohini (Chaddha), the younger beta Devendra (Mistry), all musically gifted, but professionally and emotionally retarded, by the domination of the guru.
Shah dominates the show, showing us how silence can convey so much, his expressions ranging, with a slight twinkle, from pure disgust, to disapproval, to weak praise: last seen playing with ragas in Sarfarosh ( 1999), it fulfills its role completely. You wish, however, that the writers hadn’t chosen to reveal a few dark secrets that deeply marked her family, especially her stepdaughter, so late in the ten episodes. It’s done with the intention of breaking the facade of the guru who can’t hurt, and by implication, claiming that the old isn’t always the best, but everything is too rushed.
But every time Bandish Bandits turns classic he remembers his millennia, and you get, aside from Tamanna, who smokes (in the first few episodes; you never see her light up later), colors her hair artfully. wavy in blue, shaped boxes, and says things like, “it’s legit, it’s so legitimate”, as she admires a raga, several other young characters who represent “the other” side, the genre that smacks of classical music sounds like a “strangled goat”. Now come on guys get on your angry makeup, says Arghya, Tamanna’s music producer (Kapur, manly and enthusiastically channeling many depictions of Hollywood agents looking for their clients). He also says: har Arjun ko apne Krishna ki zaroorat hoti hai. Good then.
Pretty lyrics fly everywhere, in English and Hindi; Radhe has a rude pal (Kumar) who has his back and directs one of the most problematic pieces of this series, in which a girl, seen in a graphic sex video filmed without her knowing, is forced to leave a relationship. This episode only adds to the unstable ways in which women are portrayed: Chaddha’s Mohini is given a seat at the men’s table almost at the end; the rest of the time, her head is covered and her voice low. It’s to the credit of this formidable actor that she does so much in the role. As we see Radhe Mohan rejoicing over his victory in a decisive contest (what will we do without these competitions: one character usefully calls the “sangeet samrat” an “Indian idol for classical music”, just in case we missed the point), Tamanna is sent on a journey of self-improvement.
Obviously, Bandish Bandits have a season two coming up. Hopefully, we have less old-fashioned drama, and a set that is younger and more polished and more confident in their intentions. And maybe the writers will be careful not to let the characters happily dispense advice and medication for “bipolar disorder.” Yes, it does: we actually hear the names of prescription drugs.
The conversation around the need to rekindle interest in classical music, and that there is no need for a break between classical and popular, must continue. Despite its flaws, Bandish Bandits remains focused on this crucial theme. I’m always looking for great music (made by Shankar Ehsaan Loy), places (Jodhpur is beautiful and the city’s famous mirchi pakode that the characters are shown eating whether they are happy or angry , looks extremely attractive).
Mirchi pakode, anytime, and music, always.
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