We have heard many stories of artists being tormented by their quest to perfect a song, a painting, a novel, or a dance form. But Bandish Bandits, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video says art should not be a burden but a joy that sets you free and helps you brings people together. The show is created by Amritpal Singh Bindra and Anand Tiwari, with Anand also serving as director of the entire series.
Quite like the film Morning Raga, Bandish Bandits tells the story of two individuals and two musical styles meeting. Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik), a classically trained singer, meets pop star and social media music sensation Tamanna (Shreya Chaudhary) at her concert in Jodhpur. This chance encounter ends up becoming a life changing event for the two.
Radhe lives with his parents, uncle, and grandfather Pandit Radhemohan Rathod (Naseeruddin Shah), a classical music singer who is held in high regard even by the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Sadly, their respectable public image is in stark contrast to their grim and unhappy home where the air reeks of stifled ambitions and repressed desires. Panditjiâ€™s sons Rajendra (Rajesh Tailang) and Devendra (Amit Mistry) nurse grudges against their father for holding them to impossibly high standards, while Radheâ€™s mother Mohini (Sheeba Chaddha) has a tragic story worthy of a spin off show.
Tamanna comes a breath of fresh air into Radheâ€™s drab life. Inspired by the purity and sincerity in his voice, Tamanna asks him to collaborate with her on a song. Radhe however is determined to follow in his grandfatherâ€™s footsteps and refuses to sing in any other style till his familyâ€™s dwindling fortunes force him to change his mind. Singing with Tamanna offers Radhe a completely different musical experience that he finds enjoyable and liberating. The two also indulge in a rather unnecessary role-playing sidetrack where they decide to fake a love story (we know how that will end) to get the right emotional vibe for the song they are creating. It is unabashedly frivolous and corny, but I realised it has been created to specifically appeal to a younger audience.
Tamanna and Radheâ€™s song is a success and the two come together to form the â€˜Bandish Banditsâ€™ and create more music together. Just when we think Radhe can have his Riyaaz and his fusion too, enters Digvijay (Atul Kulkarni), Panditjiâ€™s son from his first wife whom he has abandoned years ago. Digvijay wants his father to name him successor to his musical legacy instead of Radhe. Unfortunately, after this point, what begins as the story of two youngsters trying to navigate careers in music and finding their own voice, literally and otherwise, suddenly shifts focus to Panditji, Radhe and Digvijay and a male dominated war of succession that is unforgivably clichÃ©d. It also dilutes the core promise of the show - youngsters creating a bridge between classical purity and commercial viability in an art form.
Bandish Bandits has been made with sincerity, but the pace and quality of writing is inconsistent. The story gets unnecessarily stretched over 10 episodes and could have easily been at least two hours shorter. But what it lacks in a taut screenplay and sharp editing, it makes up for in its performances. Ritwik and Shreya arenâ€™t strong performers, but their lack of experience works well here. As young artists in real life as well, they strike a nice balance of naturally exuding more confidence around people their own age and looking suitably overwhelmed around veteran actors in the cast.
Ritwik especially has a tough task on hand having to work opposite far more experienced actors who effortlessly steal scenes. Rajesh and Amit bring adequate pathos and resentment to their roles but scenes of them playing musical instruments have been clumsily filmed and edited. Naseeruddin Shah is excellent as the impractical and unlikeable patriarch, but the actor manages to bring just the right amount of vulnerability to his role to ensure that you donâ€™t hate him. Sheeba is in brilliant form yet again, and her performance in the scene where her backstory is finally revealed is perhaps the best by an actor in the entire series. Atul Kulkarni, another fine actor, is excellent as Digvijay. Kunal Roy Kapur as Tamannaâ€™s agent Arghya brings the laughs, but even his role like most of the castâ€™s lacks dimensions and finer details.
The real star of the show though is the music. As someone who trained for several years in Hindustani classical music, and enjoys music in general, this show was a treat. Music directors Shankar Ehsaan Loy create a great album, but itâ€™s wonderful to see and hear characters talk about and sing a khayal, thumri, and bandish, all styles that are slowly getting lost today.
The relevance of these traditional compositions and classical training in a world where music is increasingly expected to provide instant gratification is another theme the makers attempt to discuss throughout the series. Itâ€™s strange then that the names of the singers donâ€™t appear earlier in the end credits. I actually sat through waiting for the names of the singers to appear, especially the ones who have lent their voices to the main characters and saw that a casting intern received his or her credit before the actual singers without whom this show would not be possible. I realised later that the showâ€™s soundtrack has been released separately with detailed credits, but honestly thatâ€™s not good enough.
Itâ€™s no masterpiece but watch Bandish Bandits for the lovely music that I am pretty certain we will not get to hear on any other show, and for some its fabulous actors who quite like the music only get seen on web series like these.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.