In Banjo, Marathi director Ravi Jadhav proves, once again, that only regional filmmakers know their way around a “mass” movie. It isn’t just that the underprivileged banjo-playing hero (Taraat, portrayed by Riteish Deshmukh) is shown rising from a manhole, blackened with sewage, after rescuing a child that’s fallen in. It’s that his bathing is intercut with shots of a woman scraping the soot off a kitchen utensil. It’s the things Taraat says, lines that make him sound like a Sartre of the slums: “Kabhi hawa khaaya, kabhi gaali khaaya, jab mila tab khaana khaaya.” It’s in the little boy who functions as the local newspaper, screaming out the latest developments. It’s in the heroine’s (Nargis Fakhri’s Chris) decision to explore these neighbourhoods in hot pants and a top that reveals most of her midriff. Fakhri is the perfect “mass” heroine. She’s impossibly fair-complexioned. She speaks the language as if making balloon animals with it. And she acts like she’s participating in a game show inside her head: Who Wants To Be The Next Katrina Kaif?
Where Banjo differs from the usual “mass” movie is that there isn’t really a villain, unless you count the record-company executive who sneers that what Taraat makes is “raaste ka music.” Instead of a good-versus-evil story, we have something about Chris coming all the way from New York to make raaste ka music with Taraat and his companions, who play at local events. Jadhav has good ideas. He thinks up unusual people like Taraat’s catatonic music teacher, and his character introductions are fun. He stages vibrant scenes and at least one very imaginative song sequence – Udan choo, which melds Chris’s world with Taraat’s, having her appear in couture costumes while selling fish and sweeping the streets. But these touches cannot animate his trite Slumdog Musician story, and the benign Deshmukh is no Rajinikanth to galvanize the material. He is, at best, Rajendra Kumar. He leaves you with the feeling he’d rather be reciting Urdu couplets than punch dialogues.
- Kabhi hawa khaaya, kabhi gaali khaaya, jab mila tab khaana khaaya = a flavorful “mass” line about the hero’s underprivileged background
- raaste ka music = street music
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