As an impressionable nine-year old, I was taken aback by ‘Rockford’, one of the first albums to have been released by then emerging music composers, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Two decades later, the trio make a remarkable foray into the world of web with Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Bandish Bandits’, a web series featuring a winning soundtrack that sweeps you off your feet.
Directed by Anand Tiwari, ‘Bandish Bandits’ is ambitious, no doubt. But the screenplay by Tiwari, Amritpal Singh Bindra, Lara Ehsan Chandni and Adhir Bhatt is loaded with conflicts too many, it stands at the risk of succumbing to the weight of its own ambitions. But salvage comes through earnest performances by a top-notch star cast and songs that you might want to include into your playlist, pronto.
‘BB’ is the story of legacy, pride and an unlikely romance. It’s a mismatch of diametrically opposite ideologies of music. Radhe (Rithwik Bhowmik) wants to follow the footsteps of his revered singer grandfather Pandit Radhe Mohan Rathore (actor extraordinaire Naseeruddin Shah) and carry forth the legacy of his Jodhpur gharana. Tamanna (Shreya Chaudhry) wants to be the country’s biggest singing sensation. While their worlds collide, the outcome holds uncertainty, the trappings of overnight fame and unresolved conflicts within.
If we leave aside the show’s inconsistent script and it’s concerning length, there is a lot to appreciate about the show. The production design by Swapnali Das and Sriram Ganapathy’s lenses invite you into the streets of Jodhpur, offering you a lived-in experience, even while you binge the series at the comfort of your homes. Hazel Paul’s costume design is flattering and appropriate to the setting.
The transportive, immersive soundtrack of the show was reminiscent of ‘Mirzya’, another film set in Rajasthan, boasting of a brilliant album by SEL. From the arresting ‘Bandish Bandits Theme’ by Mame Khan, Ravi Mishra and Shankar Mahadevan to the electro-pop ‘Sajan Bin’ by Shivam Mahadevan and Jonita Gandhi (a party favourite), ‘Labb Par Aaye’ (beautifully sung by Javed Ali) to the rousing classical treats with ‘Garaj Garaj‘ by maestro Ajoy Chakraborty and the ‘Garaj Garaj Jugalbandi’ by Farid Hasan and Mohammed Aman, each song is a respite from a day and age plagued with mindless recreations. In my humble opinion, SEL and Amit Trivedi are the only composers today, who let their music propel the narrative further than serving as a prop.
The web show also works largely on account of its actors. As Pandit Radhe Mohan Rathore, Shah brings his stellar act to the fore. It’s hard to believe that here is an actor who just turned 70, yet he can put the energy and enthusiasm of today’s young actors to shame. Equally top-notch is Atul Kulkarni as Digvijay, who is restrained and dignified yet holds his rage and hurt with ease. A word of praise for the excellent Sheeba Chaddha, who stars as the matriarch Mohini. At a time when the audiences are more informed about the credentials of talented actors, I really hope the actress gets her due recognition. She has successfully experimented between films and web and enjoys a huge following among the millennials. Rajesh Tailang as Rajendra adds strength to his vulnerabilities and Amit Mistry as his brother Devendra is supportive, even while he nurses his own wounds. Displaying their potential in the presence of seasoned actors are the youngsters Shreya and Ritwik. Both barely a film and a show old bring charm, a dignified sense of confusion and recklessness, and relatability to their parts.
‘Bandish Bandits’ is a rare narrative that places music above its characters and it’s worth succumbing to its magic. Enthusiasts of authentic, unfiltered and heartfelt tunes and verses have a reason to cheer.