“Kharaj ka riyaaz karo…jitna neeche se gaaoge, utna upar ja sakoge” (Practice Kharaj…the more you practice the lower octaves, better will be your higher notes). When I heard these lines coming from Panditji played by Naseeruddin Shah, I knew this wasn’t a half-baked series loosely based on Hindustani Classical music. Director Anand Tiwari and his team of writers had done their homework, and how! Apart from the obvious power performances by Bandish Bandit’s creme cast Naseer Sahab and Atul Kulkarni, the series was filled with musical moments that took me back to my own Indian classical training memories. I might have gotten a little biased since it was a nostalgic trip for me. But I’m not going to talk about just that.
Despite the flaws, the inconsistencies, and a couple of unanswered loose-ends, Bandish Bandits managed to stay with me for quite some time. It lingered and kept ringing in my mind for its music and the whole audio-visual representation. Here’s why Bandish Bandits has the ability to create magic and why it’s not just like any other Indian musical cinema.
The Gharana Tradition
Throughout the series, we see Pandit Radhemohan Rathod (Naseeruddin Shah) portraying the seriousness of their Gharana. Having trained in Indian classical music, I, to a great extent, understand the relevance of a Gharana. The intensity with which the characters like Panditji and his grandson Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik) honour their “Rathod Gharana” throughout the story, is a representation of Gharana sincerity among musicians in its truest form.
This Gharana emphasis is further intensified with the entry of Digvijay (Atul Kulkarni) which ends up as a War of Gharanas in the finale. Hindustani classical musicians, especially those who follow the Guru-Shishya Parampara (Teacher-Student Tradition being the literal translation), respect this aspect of Gharana culture with immense devotion. So, when there are scenes of hardcore battling attitudes among Digvijay and Radhemohan to save their respective Gharanas, it’s not really exaggerated.
Here’s an article recently published in the Indian Express – Is the Guru-Shishya Parampara still relevant in Indian classical music?
The Powerful Riyaaz Sessions
One of the highest points of Bandish Bandits, for me at least, was the Riyaaz sequences. I particularly got hooked by the very first scene where Panditji enters the huge courtyard while his disciples await him along with Tanpura and Tabla players. The students singing “Jaago Mohan Pyare” in Bhairav, a beautiful morning Raga, in perfectly coordinated voices – there simply couldn’t be a better opening scene. That very moment you know in your heart, it’s going to be a musical treat.
In another Riyaaz scene, where Panditji is prepping Radhe for the finale Sangeet Samrat show, he explains their Gharana’s special “Jod-Raga” (combination Raga) which is Basant-Bahaar. The intricate details that are shown about the Jod-Raga and how it’s supposed to sound as one individual Raga instead of two separate Ragas, are simplified yet honoured enough to maintain the depth of Classical music. You experience some soulful music while you learn something new.
You hear Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty, Javed Ali and Shivam Mahadevan voicing most of the Riyaaz scenes for Naseeruddin Shah and Ritwik Bhowmik respectively. You listen to them on screen and their voices just open up every cell in your body with their melody.
The Fine Techniques & Terminology
While practicing for the grand Sangeet Samrat show, Radhe is trained vigorously. And those sequences give you the opportunity to take a peek into the technicalities that are involved in Hindustani Classical training. The practice of “Avartan” (the cadence and descent of musical notes in one breath) was especially a true reflection of what goes on in every Riyaaz. There is hardly any singer who’s had a classical training (including myself!), who hasn’t practiced Avartan at some point.
The Kharaj (practicing in the lower octaves), singing from your lungs while maintain the “Sur”, performing “Taan” (rapid singing of notes in a Raga) without moving the jaws…all these techniques are excellent exercises to grasp control over voice and breathing. In Bandish Bandits, these occasional scenes give you a quick taste of classical music in India. And it leaves you wanting more!
There are sequences of some tough Riyaaz sessions, extreme displays of dedication, and hard work during the series that is beautifully picturized. Dramatic, but just the right amount!
Delicately Handled Fusion Music
Where on one hand you witness Riyaaz of melodious Bandish, Taranas and Thumris, on the other there are pop songs with youth lingo and digital technology creating musical madness! The character of Tamanna (Shreya Chaudhary), a YouTube sensation collaborates with Radhe only to deliver some magical results. The blending of Hindustani classical and western music is a very delicate and tricky job. Only someone who has tremendous knowledge and mastery over both the worlds can do justice to fusion music.
This is where our power trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy steals the show! Not everyone can successfully justify both Indian and Western music and create something completely fresh with such finesse. A story where “falsetto” is aggressively negated as well as praised by two different music worlds with equal conviction is what makes Bandish Bandits stand apart. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy blend seamlessly Indian melody with Western instrumentation in “Sajan Bin” without overdoing any part. One of the reasons why you just can’t stop humming it!
The Sangeet Samrat
The first time we hear Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty’s voice when Panditji performs “Garaj Garaj” at the Sangeet Samrat event which he’s been doing for over 25 years, unchallenged. That’s one of the sequences that makes the whole series worth your while. The baritone of Chakraborty thunders the moment with grandiose. Every listener, inside and outside the screen realises why Pandit Radhemohan has been an undefeated contender of Sangeet Samrat all these years.
The second innings of Sangeet Samrat, which is the finale of the season brings more drama along with more elements of music. As it’s a battle of the Gharanas, we get the chance to witness two different singing styles with equally enchanting singing prowess. Where Javed Ali’s “Lab par aaye” fills your heart with old-school romance, Shankar Mahadevan’s “Viraha” gives you some serious goosebumps. Farid Hasan & Mohammad Aman equally give stirring performances. and Without spoiling it for you, I can assure, that the finale is something that you will not be able to forget for a while. One reason enough to call it good cinema.
Other than the musical journey of the protagonist, Bandish Bandits is also largely about the importance of discipline, perseverance, and respecting every art and artist. The series is not just about learning a few Hindustani classical terminologies or showing off your talent in different platforms. It’s about passion. And aiming for excellence in what you’re passionate about. There is a scene where Tamanna tells Radhe that great artists like Freddie Mercury, Coldplay, and Kishore Kumar use their falsetto voice not because they can’t sing high notes in a real voice. But, because they know the song requires a certain texture and they sing to obtain that texture. There are many such moments in Bandish Bandits where you learn (and unlearn) things, discover a whole new sphere that you didn’t know existed. Watch the series for its excellence in showing you that world. Watch it with an open mind and heart and I promise you’ll be a different person waiting eagerly for a Bandish Bandits Season 2!
Let us know once you’ve watched Bandish Bandits to share your thoughts about it!
Cover Image Source: Connect Gujarat