Cast: Riteish Deshmukh, Nargis Fakhri, Mohan Kapoor
Director: Ravi Jadhav
There’s nothing wrong with every Hindi film male actor worth his salt wanting to do a solo hero film. After all, in a multi-starcast film, the fruits of success get divided among many, and even if one actor performs well in it, he seldom gets his due. But can you imagine Riteish Deshmukh as the lead, that too sporting a ponytailed look of a musician in a mainstream film? The answer is: Anybody could be believable, provided the script has some meat, and he proves his mettle by being realistic. The moot point is: Can Deshmukh deliver? Perhaps, he could, if the screenplay allowed him to explore newer insights into a character. Banjo has an NRI musician Kris (Nargis Fakhri) flying all the way from New York to India after listening to a track her friend (Luke) in Mumbai had recorded, and sent it to her. In the song, there is the sound of banjo, in particular, that she finds so mesmerising that she would do anything to find the banjo player, and blend it as part of her single for a competition she wants to participate in.
Though not seasoned, the banjo artist Tarraat (Riteish Deshmukh) is not alone; he has a full-fledged band comprising car mechanic Grease (Dharmesh Yelande); newspaper vendor Paper (Aditya Kumar); and shehnai player Vajaya (Ram Menon). He himself counts on the commission he earns as an extortionist. Together, they decide firmly to establish an ensemble of musicians, to seek fame, success and respect. They also infuse their brand of music with the musicality that the festive spirit of Ganesh Chaturthi commands, and thus, try and create a sound that is a mishmash of rock, reggae and Marathi folk beats. Encouraged by Kris’ support and reassurance, they all get together. As a film Banjo fails to examine how these disparate musicians have found ways to work together and succeed as an ensemble. It’s also a missed opportunity on the part of Deshmukh to get beneath the surface of the character he plays. Unmistakably, he is unsatisfying, offering a little bit of this and a little bit of that without ever making much of an impression.
Marathi director Ravi Jadhav, who has made good films in the past, such as Natarang, Balgandharva and Balak Palak forays into the Hindi film territory with a so-called musical about young boys that never really convince us. Not once you would think that the performances of these young enthusiasts from the slums could change the world: so inept and superficial they all look to explore the power of music to preserve tradition, shape cultural evolution or inspire hope. As a musical, Banjo is uneven, flawed, uninteresting, and even didactic, at times. Not every performed sequence is great, though some performances feature a lot of rock-band-like theatrics to gin up the excitement. And while the lead actors are supposed to be gung ho about performing, the narrative is not even punctuated by great music in a film that boasts of music as its theme; there’s not a single song that is hummable.
The music in totality doesn’t offer much in the way of reflection or insight into what these men go through. But I was disappointed for another reason too; nobody, it seems, knows what it’s about. Is it about talent vs the untalented? Or how the poor slum dwellers have no hope for their dreams to get realised? Or that one could become a celebrity with hard work and dedication? In between, names of the Bee Gees and Jimi Hendrix are thrown in to suggest that these boys could be as great someday. With a premise that could have turned into a rock solid story, this could have been a winner all the way. Sadly, the film attempts, to its detriment, to cover more ground than it can, in its 138-minute runtime.
The writer is a film critic and has been reviewing films for over 15 years. He also writes on music, art and culture, and other human interest stories....