Battles rage in Amazon Prime Video’s new music-themed series Bandish Bandits. There is the clash between the wildly different worlds of Hindustani classical and pop music. There is the rift between generations, the tussle between lovers, the tensions between purity and popularity. Every time two disparate elements manage to sync, they are torn apart by ego, ambition, misunderstanding – and ever so often, scripting contrivances.
Tucked into the broader theme of taming disharmony is the coming-of-age stories of two youngsters. Tamanna (Shreya Chaudhary) is an on-the-up pop singer whose most recent track hasn’t moved the YouTube views counter as much as her recording company would have liked. With two weeks to churn out a bonafide hit, Tamanna gets on the road and lands up in Jodhpur. There, she walks right into the troubles of a household of classical musicians.
Rathod (Naseeruddin Shah) is an old-fashioned maestro, stingy with praise and generous with put-downs. In addition to being a disciplinarian, Rathod is a purist who refuses to trade on his gharana’s reputation and relies on the patronage of Jodhpur’s nobility to stay afloat.
But the fortunes of Rathod’s family are sinking. His eldest son Rajendra (Rajesh Tailang) has run up huge debts. His neglected younger son Devendra (Amit Mistry) is singing ad jingles on the side. The burden of Rathod’s legacy is borne by his grandson Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik). The talented but tentative Radhe strives to meet his grandfather’s high standards, but falters when he runs into Tamanna.
She promises instant fame and love, and she delivers. As Radhe re-tunes his voice for a classical-meets-pop collaboration, his world opens up in thrilling but also dangerous ways. He pays the price of willing seduction over 10 episodes, created by Anand Tiwari and Amritpal Singh Bindra and directed by Tiwari.
Bindra and Tiwari have also written the episodes along with Lara Chandni and Adhir Bhat. The gorgeous music, which spans semi-classical and bubblegum pop and is dexterously woven into the narrative, is by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
The composers roll out a range of tunes and voices that matches the variety of the characters. The Rathod family includes Radhe’s mother Mohini (Sheeba Chaddha), who is as dutiful towards her famous father-in-law as she is supportive of Radhe’s dreams.
Tamanna’s back story includes a cool dad (Rituraj Singh) and a chilly mom (Meghna Malik). Tamanna also has manager Arghya (Kunaal Roy Kapur) to bring her back to earth when she threatens to lose her bearings. Arghya’s love for profanity is matched on the other side by Radhe’s lusty friend Kabir (Rahul Kumar).
Radhe isn’t merely trying to prove himself to his grandfather. He must also carry the adapt-or-perish theme that drives the narrative. The overtly busy narrative makes sure to ever so often railroad the romance between Radhe and Tamanna, sweetly portrayed by the rough-edged but enthusiastic young leads. Radhe’s threatened marriage to the wealthier Sandhya (Tridha Choudhury) is one of many curveballs lobbed at him, and it is a miracle that the young man stands his ground.
The conflict within the Rathod family has its shares of melodramatic excesses, but it is at least more engaging than the cliched love story. As Radhe struggles to define his identity, the family’s secrets spill out one by one, and the courtyard is sloshing with resentment and crushed ambitions.
Atul Kulkarni, making a late entry into the plot, is among Rathod’s vivified skeletons. Kulkarni’s Digvijay, a less rigid classical singer than Rathod, takes the series into the inevitable zone of the musical duel when he challenges Radhe to a contest. Can the complexity of an ancient tradition trying to navigate the demands of the modern world be reduced to two singers matching notes on a stage?
Also missing from the mix is a reflection of the audience base for classical music that allows performers to maintain tradition, pursue long careers, and become stars in their own right. An understanding of the ability of classical musicians to successfully renegotiate the boundaries of form and performance on their own terms is also absent.
The escalating soap operatics that occupy much of the runtime produce some solid characters. Naseeruddin Shah is perfectly cast as the obdurate master who represents a purist and possibly ossified mode of thinking. Shah’s rich and deep voice, grave manner and unbending body language make Rathod a man to be respected and feared, rather than loved.
Rajesh Tailang, as Rathod’s hapless elder son, and Amit Mistry, as the resigned but resourceful younger son, impressively convey the family drama with minimum hysterics. Sheeba Chaddha is fabulous as the daughter-in-law with her own tragic back story. It comes a bit late in the series, and it is more powerful than Tamanna’s manufactured tensions with her mother.
Among the other characters, Kunaal Roy Kapur and Rahul Kumar provide welcome distractions from the lead pair’s contretemps. Tridha Chaudhary, as Radhe’s fiancee Sandhya, brings quiet dignity to her role.
Atul Kulkarni is a case of better-late-than-never – the actor leaves his mark as Digvijay, who is bent on avenging a previous slight. Is Digvijay an unlikely saviour or a cunning disruptor? The matter is left for a second season, even though the series could easily have wrapped up in just one session.
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