He is Radhe, a Hindustani classical singer in Jodhpur. She is Tamanna, a young, hep popstar from Bombay. He hates the young generation’s obsession with social media and pop music; she thinks classical music sounds like a goat being strangled. He struggles to gain validation from his grandfather, the great Pandit Radhemohan Rathod of Jodhpur, the greatest singer of all time who even rejected a Padma Shri because the 3 days in Delhi would disrupt his daily riyaz. She struggles to deliver a hit record to JP Records, a Bombay-based record company, and struggles to create music in general. He is sweet and shy, she is bold and outrageous.
It’s the oldest story in the book.
See, the audience loves oldest-stories-in-the-book when they have a little spin twisted in them. Except here, it’s literally the same narrative churned out that has been churning out for centuries: boy, girl, different worlds, meet and fall in love, worlds collide. Just because Bandish Bandits added the touch of Hindustani music doesn’t mean that it’s totally original. The story is the same old, worn out love story that uses stereotypical, stock characters to build on the same old, worn out point.
Naseeruddin Shah plays Pandit Radhemohan Rathod, the patriarch who rules over Jodhpur’s music scene as well as every member of his family. His grandson is Radhe, played by Ritwik Bhowmik, the next great thing after his grandfather. Ritwik is ready to do whatever it takes to gain validation from his grandfather — validation that comes in form of a sacred thread tied around his hand. However, this validation is a fragile thing that can be broken at the smallest slippage on Radhe’s part. While this is the 6th time Naseeruddin Shah is playing the role of a musician, he does add gravitas to Pandit Radhemohan Rathod, exposing how his archaic, patriarchal beliefs caused problems within his own family members (his sons and his daughter in law). Radhe, on the other hand, is almost believable, although I am not convinced of his utter devotion to music. The emotional aspect of being a passionate singer is slightly lacking in his performance, and scenes when he apparently feels/is made to feel unworthy of being a Rathod musician, looks more like an actor trying hard to perform the feeling of utter devastation. However, he does wear some great shirts.
Tamanna, played by Shreya Chaudhary, is an unfortunately uni-dimensional character. Her performance begs the question: why must feminist women be so overtly bold, fierce, bike all the way from Mumbai to Jodhpur in less than a day while keeping her hair and make up intact? With a character this bland, this black and white, the show’s creators missed out on doing so much with Tamanna. She is a public personality living a public, popstar life, but on the inside she’s just as sensitive and kind as Radhe is. Wow. Shocker. Totally didn’t expect that.
There are, however, many redeeming qualities to Bandish Bandits. The first being Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s fantastic composition. The trio have always wowed us with their film music, and this webseries just proves that they can create music to sustain longer narratives and remain true to stories and characters. The Hindustani music, especially ‘Thumri’, is an accurate representation of Rajasthani classical music. Their voices are absolutely outstanding — Javed Ali, Shankar Mahadevan, Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, Shivam Mahadevan — and steals the spotlight. I found myself, on multiple occasions, tapping my feet and drumming my fingers to the gorgeous Tabla beats, closing my eyes to take in the sarangi melody. The music is honest and authentic, never exoticising on the folksy part of it. Tamanna’s pop music is fun; but the fusion songs are superbly eclectic. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy seem to understand perfectly the beauty of electronic music, the points of contact it has with classical music, and have connected the dots between the two to create beautiful tributary of classical-pop fusion.
The other redeeming factors are, of course, Sheeba Chaddha and Atul Kulkarni. Mohini, Pandit’s bahu played by Chaddha, is a quiet character, assuming her role as mother and ghar ki beti, until the penultimate episode. In a rather surprising and believable feminist twist, she reveals to Radhe that her voice, like countless other women’s, had been stolen by the patriarchy. When Pandit Rathod heard her sing years ago, he was threatened by the sheer excellence of her voices and her ability to hit each raga with perfection. His fragile masculinity enforces Mohini’s father to have her married off to his son, and the only dowry she must pay is her voice. She stops singing and the ruler of Hindustani classical music in Jodhpur continues being the Pandit. Her relationship with Atul Kulkarni’s character becomes annoying and predictable; yet another narrative thread that felt extra and unnecessary to the show. However, Mohini emerges as the real feminist of the show, as does her son Radhe, and not Tamanna, who seems to be following a rulebook of what it means to be one. Radhe learns from Mohini how chores restricted to women actually teach him taal, sur and make him a better, sharper musician. That was a pretty cool plot point.
Ultimately, Bandish Bandits is an original show in its concept; OTT has pretty much exhausted the crime thriller genre. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy provide us with an amazing musical journey, and the senior actors anchor the characters in their reality. However, it took a fairly original concept only to wring dry from it every cliched, predictable story in the book. Too many things happen in 10 episode for the audience to stay with any one thing; Tamanna’s failing music career, her fraught relationship with her mother, the folks back at JP records, Radhe’s vocal ability, his relationship with Tamanna, the Rathod family’s financial distress, the Rathod sons’ resentment towards their father, Mohini’s resentment and oppression, her secret affair, Pandit’s ear surgery…sigh. Loose threads are pulled out from the main plot, but are not all tied together in the end.
For the music, the exposition of patriarchy in the classical music world, the chemistry between Radhe and Tamanna, for creating a couple of complex characters in a story otherwise overdosing in stock characters, I give Bandish Bandits 3/5.
Watch Bandish Bandits on Amazon Prime!