Bandish Bandits(Amazon Prime, 10 Episodes)

Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Ritwick Bhowmick, Shreya Chaudhary Sheeba Chaddha, Rajesh Tailang, Amit Mistry, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Atul Kulkarni

Directed by Anand Tiwary

Rating: ** ½

Somewhere in the third or fourth episode of this well-intended but vapid series on the age-old tussle between classical and popular styles of singing, a ‘bipolar’ joke shows up when the film’s hero Radhe(Ritwick Bhowmick) a repressed victim of borderline abuse from his guru Radhe Mohan Rathod (Naseeruddin Shah) is being forced into marrying a girl he doesn’t love.

She wonders if he is gay. “No, I’m bi-polar”, answers Radhe, as if the two were afflictions in the same line of vision to fob off unwanted attention.

The awkwardly titled Bandish Bandits means well. It wants to bring out the dynamics of the conflict between Hindustani classical music and contemporary auto-tune kind of singing…In other words the raging war between the raw –refined and the studio-defined.A good even Nobel idea is squandered away in some terrible writing and an able but unsure cast that is often lost in the vain quest for a centre to this core-challenged drama.

Fatally, even the music, the backbone of the dramatic tension, is not very classy. The voice used for the hero doesn’t match his speaking voice. These are among the more solvable problems of the wobbly drama. A bigger problem arises when our repressed Radhe rebels by turning into a pop performer wearing a tacky wannabe-Batman mask so that the Guruji back home won’t recognize him.

Maskman, yes that’s Radhe’s alias as a pop sensation, is a winner. This series is not.

With due respect, Guruji needs to be spanked. As played by the indomitable Naseeruddin Shah he is a stubborn cruel unforgiving unrelenting cranky old man who treats his sons(Rajesh Tailang, Amit Mistry) like shit and his grandson Radhe like super-shit. Honestly, the treatment that Radhe gets from his guru-grandfather qualifies as serious abuse. Here in the world of classical discipline, we are supposed to believe it is an exercise in self-discipline and in line with the pursuit of classical excellence.

The series peddles age-old prejudices and ‘cultural’ values as yardsticks of ‘traditional’ behaviour. Radhe is supposed to blindly do his grandfather’s bidding because well, you can’t say no to Naseeruddin Shah even if he behaves like an empowered infantile, an infinitely more convention-clad version of Vikram Gokhale in Sanjay Bhansali’s Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Newcomer Shreya Chaudhary as Radhe’s auto-corrected singer -beloved smokes and fumes to show the dilemma of a newcomer in a hurry to get somewhere in life. In the end, she swears, ‘No short cuts and no auto-correction,’ as she heads to a music school. The series too required some serious revision in its vision of a changing world where rigid adherence to tradition only engenders catastrophe.

This one is more a storm in teacup rather than a hurricane in Jodhpur where the plot is plonked uneasily. While stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah and Atul Kulkarni are wasted in underwritten parts there is way too much of the young romantic lead who try hard to bring forth the intricacies of the drama that are sadly lost in translation. The lead pair and the intricacies.

For me, the saving grace were the performances by Sheeba Chadha and Kunal Roy Kapur. One can say so much without a word. The others just can’t stop talking. Between the two extremities lies the world of creative conflicts that this series sadly fails to explore with any reasonable level of credibility.