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The Bandish Bandits

I recently saw a mini serial titled “Bandish Bandits”. It is based on hindustani classical music. Involving a musical family from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The music is very enthralling. So are the visuals highlighting the splendors of Jodhpur. The sprawling city amidst historical forts and buildings. Such musicals inspire the way the movies of yesteryears like Baiju Bawra and Basant Bahar did. It stokes the flames of classical music within oneself.

Classical music the world over, has evolved with time. Starting with the basic notes, leading to timeless master compositions, the attempts to write it down and make it available to the masses. Although western classical music is different from Indian classical music, having developed independently in different parts of the world, rigor marks all forms of classical music. Long and intense training with the masters is required before one can perform before an audience.

While Indian classical music is as old as the Vedas themselves, inspired initially by religion, there was a branching into hindustani and carnatic classical music. Carnatic music retained the purest form of Indian classical while hindustani imbibed elements of Islamic music. Similarities do exist and so do differences.

Those were the ancient times when there was no internet for distribution of information. Musical styles developed within a family, known as gharana. And the knowledge remained within the gharana, passing from one generation to the next one through rigorous training. Written records hardly existed and oral passing was the norm. Hence long years of training with the patriarch of the family was required to achieve proficiency and take over the torch. The serial is the story of one such fictitious gharana called the Rathor gharana.

The ageing patriarch of the Rathor gharana does not consider any of his sons suitable enough to carry on the tradition. While the promising grandson is being trained, the patriarch begins losing his hearing. Yes, hearing is very important for a performer. Although the famous Western classical composer Beethoven starts losing his hearing in his later years, he still feels and composes music by putting his chin against the piano and senses the vibrations, he is a rare exception.  The grandson does deviate from traditions by falling in love with a girl who is the queen of showbiz – a combination of contemporary dance and pop music. This angers the patriarch who stops the classical training.

The patriarch is challenged by his step son to be anointed as the scion of the gharana. The challenge is accepted as the patriarch favors his grandson to be the scion. Intense training sessions start. Focusing on control over the raagas and their ornamentations. A combination of swaras or notes causing a pleasing sensation to the ear is a raaga. It is not just any combination of swaras, but the one which has survived the ravages of time. Ornamentations, called alankaras, add beauty to the raaga and indicate mastery of the performer. Taans like aaaa….is one form of the alankaras.

Bandish, forming the title of the serial, is a composition based on a raaga. Bandish Bandits is the name of a band which is formed by the grandson and his lover. The band itself does not live long nor form the backbone of the serial. Naseeruddin Shah plays the role of the patriarch while Atul Kulkarni plays the role of step son very well. Ritwik Bhowmik plays the role of the grandson. The music composed by Shankar Ehsaan Loy is of very high quality and is the hallmark of the serial.

Like the movies Baiju Bawra and Basant Bahar end in a competition of the titans, the series ends on a high note in an intense competition between the grandson and the step son. Rather than a one song competition in the movies, here it is three songs representing three different forms. Like a three set tennis match as opposed to a one innings cricket match. As the new scion of the gharana is anointed, a family reconciliation of sorts takes place.

A spicy plot interwoven into a tussle between the classical music and the showbiz, stunning visuals of Jodhpur forming an excellent background, it is a treat for classical music lovers.

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Prasad Ganti

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Namita Sunder
3 months ago

I can not claim to know even a bit of classical music but I can vouch for its impact on a person who is totally ignorant about its technicalities our nuance. Your write up evoked my interest in ‘Bandish Bandit’ and I shall revisit after watching it tonight. Great to reconnect.

Namita Sunder
3 months ago
Reply to  Namita Sunder

yesterday I watched all the 10 episodes. Thanks a lot for directing me to it. I loved the characterisation part too a lot. After a long time I saw a serial so wonderfully executed. And yes, the rendition in the last episode was really soul stirring. The Virah Bhav by Pandit ji has that haunting impact. I have no knowledge of Ragas etc but I can feel the emotions and the stunning impact. Thanks a lot, Bro.

Navneet Bakshi
3 months ago

I am not the kind of music officinado like you are I am not even a dilettante, but I get enthralled by a good peace, enchanted by the virtuosity of the performers, whenever I stumble upon one or I am led to hear one. I think it was after your article on Pandit Jasraj I revisited a five minutes video clip of his masterful performance that came to me in Whatsapp forwards. I have always been a fan of Musical films and as I was reading your article thoughts of Navrang, Goonj Utthi Shahnai and Barsat Ki Raat came to me, but I thought it will be unfair to comment on your this post without seeing the series you referred to. Although I have a Prime Time package and I don’t see any movies or serials, yesterday I started seeing The Bandish Bandits and I swear I never thought that the Indian TV serials can be so well researched and gripping. I haven’t yet seen the episodes, so let me keep from writing more on it, but I would like to thank you for the valuable information that you so masterfully weave in your posts. I am still reading Hilly Billy Elegy and thoroughly enjoying it. I am reminded of Saint Kabir’s couplet

‘kabīr’ sañgat saadh kī jayoñ gañdhī kā baas
jo kachhu gañdhī de nahīñ tau bhī baas subās

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