The battle between classical and pop music has been going on for a while now. In a country like India, where the roots of classical music go back to thousands of years, it’s natural that the rise in popularity of western and pop music has created waves of opposition. Afterall it’s a clash between tradition and modernity, East and West, old and new. Using this theme as its premise, Amazon Prime’s new web-series Bandish Bandits gives this age-old tussle a new spin.
Director Anand Tiwari mixes a range of new and old talents, with newbies like Ritwik Bhowmik and Shreya Chaudhry sharing onscreen space with legendary names like Naseeruddin Shah, Atul Kulkarni, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Sheeba Chaddha and Rajesh Tailang. But the most important role in the series is played by music, which becomes both a character and the plot. And the dazzling soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy leaves no stones unturned to make sure of that.
The Plot (No Spoilers!)
This 10-episode series follows the story of Radhe (Bhowmik) and Tamanna (Chaudhry). Radhe is a singing prodigy, who is determined to follow in the footsteps of his celebrated classical-musician grandfather (Shah). On the other hand, Tamanna is a rising YouTube pop sensation who is desperate to become an international star. Their paths cross, and soon Radhe finds himself falling in love with Tamanna. Meanwhile, Tamanna hatches a plan to launch herself into stardom with a jugalbandi (collaboration) performance. She names hers and Radhe’s team Bandish Bandits, from where the series draws its name. Torn between helping Tamanna and staying true to his own music and family legacy, Radhe tries to juggle both at the risk of losing it all.
Radhe’s musical journey helps the show celebrate India’s Hindustani classical traditions while exploring its transition into the modern world. On the other hand, Tamanna’s character arc from being someone who feels that classical music sounds like a “goat being strangled” to admiring the nuances of ragas, helps the show navigate the difficult terrain of making Hindustani classical music appealing to its millennial audience. And in between this, are subplots dealing with family feuds, generation gap, suppression of women, talent versus beauty, choosing between popularity, money and loyalty, and tension between lovers.
The Acting And Music Wins
Shreya Choudhry and Ritwik Bhowmik do a fair job of conveying the range of emotions that their characters go through. The way they make their presence felt alongside the stalwarts in the cast is noteworthy. Sheeba Chaddha gives a remarkable performance as the daughter-in-law who has her own tragic back story. Rajesh Tailang as the feeble son of a ‘Sangeet Samrat’ who suffers in the shadows of a giant, is a picture of poise. Atul Kulkarni enters late in the show but is marvellous as the maestro-turned-competitor from a different gharana. As for Naseeruddin Shah, there is perhaps no superlative that can describe the performance he gives in the series. You can probably fill a book detailing the nuances of his performance. Everything from his silence to his expressions convey a spectrum of emotions, ranging from outright disgust, to disapproval, to faint praise.
Beyond everything else in the show is its music. Can the classical and popular music co-exist? Does the commercialisation of music take its purity away? And even if it does, how are artists supposed to survive on praises? Is there even such a thing as art for art’s sake? These are a few of the themes that are explored. The show surrenders to the beauty and complexity of Hindustani classical music, as we hear the singers differentiate between vilambit and thumri, a teevra and madhyam sur. And the album, rendered by an array of classical vocalists and playback singers, unfailingly conveys the beauty and power of the ragas even when they are blended with pop-oriented arrangements.
What Fails To Work
There’s no denying that as a music satire, the show is rife and self-aware. Yet, the investment in musical complexities is let down by average writing. While the music and acting soar, the script and the narrative don’t. The plot is overstuffed, so much so that it often feels like the show is wilting under its own weight.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the show does manage to break some gender stereotypes. We have a shy male protagonist, who for a change can hold his ground. He is gentle, yet not passive or impressionable. And then we have a female protagonist who rides bikes, fixes car engines and makes music. She is beauty, brain and brawn, yet seemingly breaks through all such labels. How we wish that a little effort was put into showcasing their growth together as a couple as well! But then, there’s a stellar cast always at hand to give the show a leg up whenever it hits a flat note. On top of that, there are the faultless musical scores. And for these big and small reasons, the show is a must-watch.
Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.