Remember those movies in which men fell for women at first glance and then hung around their homes and colleges, followed them around and fantasised about them? Chaman Bahaar is a throwback to the times when one-way romance was passed off as mutual passion and stalking was dressed up as harmless wooing.

The direct-to-Netflix Hindi film is set in a town so small that the arrival of a school-going teenager causes a minor earthquake. Rinku (Ritika Badiani), the daughter of a government officer, pays the price for being fair-skinned and wearing shorts. Men vastly older than her start walking behind her and stationing themselves outside her gate. Their hang-out spot: Billu’s paan shop, which lies across from her house.

Billu (Jitendra Kumar) was doing terribly until Rinku and family moved in. Overnight, his business starts booming. Various men develop a great hunger for paan and cigarettes and turn up to gape at Rinku’s balcony. Carrom and gambling dens are set up too – any excuse to hang around for a glimpse.

Billu, of course, has fallen for the underage Rinku too. After all, he was the first one to spot her. So he feels protective, and tries to distract Rinku’s other admirers when she emerges to take her dog out for a walk.

When things gets serious and the family seeks the intervention of a police officer, Billu’s mind gets warped. He damages Rinku’s reputation by painting unflattering slogans about her across the town.

Since Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann’s debut film, which he has also written, is told entirely from a male point of view, the question of Rinku’s feelings doesn’t arise. She remains a fantasy object, viewed from afar, and meant only to be ogled and objectified. “Her half pants have become full pants,” a character says disapprovingly.

The situational humour spins on Billu’s anxiety about having to share his beloved with the rest of the male populace. Dismissed as a loser, Billu strives to prove himself, but realises his shortcomings a bit too late for Rinku and her family. The talented Jitendra Kumar is spot-on as Billu, but even he can’t save the movie from being anything more a locker room joke.

Chaman Bahaar (2020).

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