Chaman Bahaar movie review: Jitendra Kumar's new heartland tale falls short of creating any lasting impression
Despite the strong subject and rustic charm of it, Chaman Bahaar fails to bring home any valid point.
castJitendra Kumar, Ritika Badiani, Alam Khan, Ashwani Kumar
directorApurva Dhar Badgaiyann
Heartland stories have suddenly become the flavour of the season with both theatrical and digital productions pumping in good money to make films about worlds devoid of the blitz and glamour of most NRI-Indian content that dominated the first part of the millennium.
A new addition to this list of quirky, wry tales is Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann’s Chaman Bahaar, set in the dusty, arid landscape of Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Let it be said that at the outset, Dhar’s intentions with this two-hour film are noble. He chooses to highlight the problematic nature of “small-town romance” and the misplaced notions that often tag along with it. Through the protagonist, a well-meaning panwala Billu (Jitendra Kumar), Chaman Bahaar tries to comment on the incessant eve-teasing and harassment that goes on blithely wrapped under the canopy of harmless flirting.
The unassuming protagonist (Billu) then automatically gains a higher moral ground when he decides his love interest Rinku (Ritika Badiani) should be 'protected' from the other scoundrels who hound her on motorbikes and cycles, tongues lolling, and without very obvious lack of respect for her being.
However, the scrawny and socially un-influential Billu is far from the SRK-esque charming Casanova who could occasionally beat the bad guys bloody. Billu’s instead settles for effective, underhanded tricks like the divide-and-rule policy, where he surreptitiously removes his opponents – a dangerously brooding Ashu Bhaiya (Ashwani Kumar) and Shiladitya Tiwari (Alam Khan), scion of the local political honcho.
Stuck between the local power wielders, Billu’s story of confessing his love to the pretty and petite Rinku could have been a hilarious laugh riot with its fair share of character tics and plot twists. But Dhar fails miserably at holding the story up.
Billu, who obviously had a lot of layers that could be played around with, shines through, mainly owing to Jitendra’s adept hand with the craft. In an exclusive chat with Firstpost, the Panchayat star says Billu’s “silent to violent” spectrum was what drew him towards the role. “You have so much to do as an artiste when playing a character like Billu. And the best part is, the content was really fresh, and I felt we were really saying something new with his sweet-yet-problematic, meek-yet-rebellious contradictions. He wishes to own a pan shop since he wants to be the hero of the daily actions that go on every day around the shop.”
Taking a cue from Jeetu, Billu’s contradictions more than propelled the menacingly slow plot. But the credit for that could only be given to him rather than Dhar, who also doubled up as the writer in Chaman Bahaar. As much as the crew would wish, the film hardly scratches the surface of a meaningful take on something so intrinsically prevalent not only in districts but fast-paced urban spaces, apparently 'safe' for women. The film neither does justice to the talent on board nor to the subject matter. It brings in lengthy sub-plots and asides that go nowhere, making the drudgery even worse than it is intended.
Rinku, the narrative epicentre of the feature, is purposely kept silent throughout, to drive home the fact that consent never amounts to much in an environment where patriarchal entitlement calls the shots. But her silence heavily cripples the plot. One almost cringes during scenes that show local ruffians and school kids bickering over her with patent jibes like “tere bhabhi ke baarein mein theek se baat kar” (talk respectfully about your sister-in-law) when on the other hand, she innocently shows up wearing floral tops and half pants (an obvious talking point) to walk her dog silently every day.
Even though you get the irony, you wish creative decisions could be altered to at least save you from the inane 'boy talks'.
The film depends heavily on its music. Most of Billu and Rinku’s silent exchanges get emoted through the background score. Mangesh Dhakde and Anshuman Mukherjee spruce up the story with some good tracks. Their sincere attempt works at times, but otherwise the score seems so jarring it takes away from the subtlety that the script tries to achieve.
Jitu chips in about the groundwork that went behind these scenes. “We used to go with the scenes primarily through the tracks. We’d have rehearsals, and block the scenes before the shot. Getting the shot techniques was the difficult part, as is always with silent scenes. Even though they are the most interesting, they can be really dicey. This is because the only feedback that you can get as an actor is the audience reaction because you don’t have the crutch of dialogue to know where your performance stands.”
A major slip-up by Billu cuts in as the crisis point during the climax. But from the narrative point of view, it just obscures the already fragmented storyline. When Billu lashes out his love interest in ways that are as (if not more) harmful to what he was trying to combat all along, the viewer feels disconnected enough to not even care. Yet again, the irony is lost in bad edits and boring epiphanies.
Nothing happens in Chaman Bahaar. Despite the strong subject and rustic charm of it, the film fails to bring home any valid point. You feel sad and tired by the end of it, mostly because it may have begun with the right intentions. Not only does the plot derail 10 minutes into the film, the sucker punch comes in when you realise there was no effort to redeem the wrongs till the very end of the film. One is almost forced to consider the wonders it would do if such energies could instead be channelised into making stories that actually depict the female point of view (irritated, angry, scared, indifferent… what have you) and voice instead of weak satires that feel like desi versions of locker-room conversations.
Chaman Bahaar is streaming on Netflix.
(All images from Netflix)
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