‘Praise is very hazardous to an artist’, Naseer says in the course of the serial: Bandish Bandits. Praise, yet, must be placed at the door step of director Anand Tiwari for his good 9-part series that takes on a conducted tour of Classical Hindustani music. It makes for compelling viewing. It also ensures some top-class performances and deals at one level with clash of egos and at another how important it is to be true to oneself to excel in any art form.
The series has Pandit Radhemohan Rathod (Naseeruddin Shah), the leading musician of the Rathod gharana, as the fulcrum. At his music school-cum-home is his son Devender (Rajesh Tailang), daughter-in-law Mohini (Sheeba Chaddha) and younger son Devender (Amit Mistry). The most important person is the grandson Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik). Even as he trains under the strict tutelage of the grand master, he is attracted to Tamanna Sharma (Shreya Chaudhary) who, in contrast to the traditional Rathods, is not only into pop music with an ambition to perform alongside Queen Elizabeth but also in search of a magical voice for her pop album.
She and her corporate colleague Arghya (Kunaal Roy Kapur) are more interested in using the ‘f’ word. Radhe and Tamanna meet, and what initially (not surprisingly!) starts with ridicule matures into a physical attraction between the lead pair.
While the start is impressive, the cast is introduced with precision. Not just the characters but their character too in a well-engineered script. Even as Naseer walks with ease into his character, there is a ‘Naseer moment’ in the second episode when he acknowledges a note rendered by his grandson. A few of the following episodes meander into romance. However, running parallelly is the learning of Thumri and the rendition of pop music. The challenge is for the singer to adjust to the nuances of the different genres.
It is in episode 4 that Atul Kulkarni as Digvijay Singh walks in claiming to be the heir apparent of the Bikaner gharana. This brings in the principle conflict that works its way to the climax. Also into the narrative is a streak of a love triangle between Radhe, Tamanna and Sandhya (Tridha Choudhary) who is engaged to Radhe. As a member of the royal family, she carries a certain clout.
There are certain interesting sub plots: the love triangle, how Radhe keeps his learning and success as a pop musician away from the knowledge of his Guru, the life of Digvijay, the strength of Mohini, the fractured relationship between Tamanna and her mom Avantika (Meghna Malik).
Even as the episodes 3-6 move with some contrived episodes, the director quickly reins in the horses, takes control. The final two episodes are well-narrated. The parallel takes of Tamanna and her mother on the one hand, Radhe and his mother on the other is a subtle and deft handling of woman in control. The climax too is not overstated or over-down. The director ensures that the “reality show” follows the known pattern and yet the finale is interesting.
Two aspects of the entire series call for special mention: music and performances. The performances swing from the brilliant to the very unsatisfactory. Shreya Chaudhary and Ritwik Bhowmik who fail to convert a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Steady performances from Amit Mistry, Rituraj Singh and Meghna Malik as Tamanna’s parents. Kunaal Roy is spirited. Tridha Choudhury in a cameo impresses. Special mention must be made of Rajesh Tailang as the failed singer but responsible father. He sure leaves an impact.
Naseeruddin Shah is predictably brilliant. No opportunity goes abegging. People in south India will recall JV Somayajulu in Shankarabharanam. Here comes another interpretation. Just as brilliant, if not arguably better. To me, the standout performance (partly because of the character) is Sheeba Chaddha as Mohini — reminiscent of Amita Kanwar in Buniyaad. As the silent yet powerful woman sold to tradition yet individualistic, she charters a special route for herself.
Music is the crux of the series. Unfortunately, the score is lacking in punch when Western music is played. From the introductory Bhairav to the Malhar, Basant Bahar, the Kesariya Balma, the Virah song in Marwa, Garaj Garaj Miya Ki Malhar, Bhim patas, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy in one of the finest album in recent times.
You do not often get an opportunity to see a series with such high class music, brilliant performances (Naseer, Sheeba, Rajesh) and a focused director who keeps his compromises to the minimum and packages a final product worth revisiting. Bandish Bandits is a must see.
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