The Ganesh festival is over in Mumbai but the familiar sounds of the banjo-and-drums combination that boom out from street corners returns to the screen in Ravi Jadhav’s first Hindi film. Banjo is the story of a neighbourhood band’s inevitable rise up the pop charts, aided by the good offices of an Indian-origin American who acts as a one-person Coke Studio in marrying infectious folk rhythms with the polish of the packaged chart-friendly tune.
Jadhav, the acclaimed Marathi director, scores well in creating an authentic seaside slum backdrop for Taarat (Riteish Deshmukh) and his band and reproducing the street slang that gives the film much of its humour. But Jadhav flubs the rest – the story and its treatment are trite, the contrivances are endless, the running time (137 minutes) stretched and the music by Vishal-Shekhar pedestrian except for one foot-tapping track.
One of Jadhav’s most disastrous decisions is to cast Nargis Fakhri as Chris, a singer who arrives in Mumbai to hunt for the band behind a catchy Ganpati festival tune. Fakhri is even less expressive than Katrina Kaif, and the director’s decision to give her one solo scene after another leads to many moments of unintended mirth.
The intentional humour, written by Jadhav, Kapil Sawant and Nikhil Mehrotra, enlivens the scenes between Taarat and his fellow musicians Paper (Aditya Kumar), Grease (Dharmesh Yelande) and Baaja (Ram Menon). Luke Kenny does well too in the role of a local talent scout. The use of real locations adds authenticity to Taarat’s character as an extortionist by day and a street musician the rest of the time, even though Riteish Deshmukh looks too slick to appear the part.
Fakhri’s acting skills, or their lack, were never in doubt, but Deshmukh is no thespian either. Their resolutely hackneyed lady-and-the-tramp romance does not quite take off, and their scenes together have as much spark as an overused electric plug. Like ABCD, another film that celebrates street talent (this time dancing), Banjo asserts that anonymous and self-taught musicians who slave away in Mumbai’s hovels have more talent than established artists. The movie takes too long to make its point, and says little that is unusual or unique along the way.
Like ABCD, Banjo relies on a song dedicated to Ganesha to win audiences over in the climax. The track Om Ganapataye Namaha Deva is a doozy, but it proves yet again than a rousing prayer to the remover of obstacles is powerless in the face of limited imagination.