Khalid Mohamed reviews the web series Bandish Bandits… and more fare currently showing on the streaming channels.
So when the sun sets every COVID-19 tinted evening, an acute sense of emptiness seeps in. Never before have all of us been, okay make that most of us who stay alone, out of choice or circumstances, assailed by stirrings of angst - a word, which should have become archaic but hasn’t. Tomorrow may be another day, or it may not be.
Existential pap, you might say. In my defence, I can only say that’s why I’ve turned into a couch cauliflower, come every p.m. I switch on to the streaming channels (OTT, or film and TV content provided by a high-speed Internet connect), for diversion. Entertainment, high-art, the in-betweeners, all A-okay with me.
Never thought I would become a slave to technology though. Yet with DVDs becoming redundant, the multiplexes ebbing into distant memory, the alternative smorgasbord - good, bad and the yaaargh -has become a daily fix. In case, the Wifi putters off, there I am, suffering from a near panic attack.
In sum, the months of lockdown and the ongoing virus dread, have been made endurable to a mega-degree by the channels, which are multiplying like extra-libidinous rabbits. We’re all sailing in the same leaky boat, aren’t we? Without much more blah then, over to a summation of my recent bouts at the couch:
Bandish Bandits (Amazon Prime):
The sprightly stage and film actor (his most solid performance was in the zombie comedy Go Goa Gone) Anand Tiwari, has at long last, found his place in the digital sun. His earlier offering Love Per Square Foot, featuring the still-unsure Vicky Kaushal, was as irksome as a spam. Now at the age of 37, in the company of Amritpal Singh Bindra, he has created a 10-episode winner about the age-old conflict between Indian classical music and modern (read computerised pop) muzak.
The title may be cheddar and so are those grossly exaggerated Gee-series-type of snarky music corporates. However, when the focus is on the frisson between the inflexible samrat of a classical gharana, Pandit Radhemohan Rathod (Naseeruddin Shah, superb superb superb), and his obsequious grandson Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik), the series flies. Here’s a generational skirmish, which might prompt you to think of how, say, the Dagar Brothers strived to prevent any blemish on the dhurap tradition.
Faint elements from Milos Forman’s Amadeus in which Mozart and Salieri engaged in lethal rivalry, may not have been intended by Tiwari. These assail you only because classical music is hardly the subject for an immediate captive audience, especially in these times of instant gratification.
Opting for a rapid-tempo, Bandish Bandits is located mostly in authentic Jodhpur havelis, Tiwari does take care to halt on occasion for pauses and reflection, as in the scenes between the callow Radhe and his principled grandfather. In addition when Radhe is counselled by his resilient mother (Sheeba Chaddha - excellent), you’re moved by the sheer intensity.
As for the boy’s dalliances with Tamanna (nuanced consistently) the pop sensation who has boogied into Rajasthan; these segments are at least credibly written and executed. Suffice it to say, the final episode - detailing a classical music showdown - makes for a nail-biter of a wrap-up. Gratifyingly, no facile solutions are presented for the choice between the traditional and the modern. It’s timeless. Fusion, like it or not, a compromise.
Of the ensemble cast, you can’t but toss a salaam to Atul Kulkarni whose grey shades have depth, Kunaal Roy Kapur a music agent who’s downright hilarious and Rahul Kumar as Radhe’s buddy, whose glib tongue is always on a rampage.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music score, especially in the classical idiom, affirms that there’s more to them than just Bollywood chartbusters. Last but not the least, Swapnali Das’ ethnic-chic production design is as vividly colourful as Rajasthan itself.
Sure there could have been more high-voltage drama. The pop singer’s la-di-dah mother, is a needless caricature. And those moments of lampooning foreign tourists (note a woman going gaga over gol gappas) are.. burp... so stock-in-trade. Still, with all its many pros and a few cons, this web series is notches above the commonplace, establishing Anand Twari as a director (or should that be creator?) of distinction.
Out of Love (Disney+Hotstar):
Apologies, I caught this one about love, adultery and deception involving the double standards of a self-absorbed husband, at a friend’s recommendation (asking for reccos is the done thing today). The friend bludgeoned me, insisting that this so-so web series, picturised in and around Ooty, should be sampled for a coolly-calibrated performance as the deceived wife by Rasika Dugal.
And I agree, this undervalued actor emerges as a woman of steel and deserves to be seen and heard of far more frequently. As the cheating husband, Purab Kohli is far too teakwoodish.
By the way it’s adapted from the BBC series Doctor Foster, and directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, whose obsession with adultery has been already crushed to death in his Saheb Biwi aur Gangster movies. How about a change of scene, Mr Dhulia? Please?
The Sopranos (Disney + Hotstar):
The godpapa of all TV series , is still around, perfect especially for a rainy day. A rage in the U.S. from 1999-2007, here’s an ATM to withdraw from when there’s nothing to bank on. As seasoned trackers would already know, the plot’s about an Italian mobster (late James Gandolfini), whose addled head is stuffed with problems, ranging from rival gangsters and his demanding family to a psycho-analyst whom he loves and hates.
Eighty-six episodes and there’s never a dull moment. Oozing self-deprecating humour, Gandolfini is consistently brilliant. They don’t make him like them anymore. Nor such series either.