Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Band Baaja Baaraat -- Dilli Delights

Band Baaja Baaraat (2010, India, Maneesh Sharma)

Maneesh Sharma makes an impressive debut with Band Baaja Baaraat, a film that does the tough job of beautifully portraying Delhi's charm while also juggling an engaging relationship tale. Now, showcasing Delhi's charm is not an easy task to pull off and traditionally the city has been underrepresented in Indian cinema. Mumbai is the home of Bollywood and amply depicted by both Indian and foreign directors, while Kolkata forms the hub of Bengali directors and often seems to catch the eye of other Indian filmmakers seeking to add a historic charm to their stories. The exotic beauty of Goa and Jaipur is also nicely captured by Indian directors while for the most part Delhi’s cinematic presence is restricted to a few token shots of India Gate, Qutab Minar, Rashtrapati Bhavan and Chandni Chowk. Of course, Delhi’s cinematic shyness can be understood to some extent as it is not a city that openly seduces any visitor on a first glance. In fact, the almost always grayish city appears to be designed to push away a first time visitor as it does not possess the vibrancy of Mumbai, the beaches of Goa or the opulent palaces of Jaipur nor does it boast a central core where the best of the city is on display. The circular Connaught Place may be a busy visiting center but it does not possess an immediate wow factor. On the other hand, the charm of Connaught Place is discovered by spending time, walking from block to block, and unearthing some precious treasure tucked away in a corner. That patient examination is required for the rest of the city as well. The true charms of Delhi are locked away in individual urban areas/colonies located hours apart and discovering the true beauty of the city requires time and energy that most visitors may not be able to afford. When one reaches a colony then one has to take time to discover a magnificent bookstore, a marvelous dhaba or a charming restaurant. On top of that, Delhi is a city that is haunted by history at almost every corner. Like Rome, Delhi’s past in the form of ruins oversee the millions traveling across the city every day. Such history is easily overlooked when one is crawling through the city’s numerous traffic packed lanes.

Thankfully over the last decade, Delhi has gotten a closer cinematic look. Mira Nair portrays a bit of the city’s beauty in Monsoon Wedding, Dibakar Banerjee’s trio of films, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Love, Sex aur Dhokha are wholly rooted in Delhi’s essence, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti captures some of the city’s youthful attitude and energy, Siddharth Anand Kumar & Ankur Tewari’s Let’s Enjoy perfectly depicts the farmhouse party scene in Delhi and Anand Kumar’s Jugaad puts a humorous spin on the real issue of sealing commercial shops in Delhi and accurately shows how things can still get done despite obstructions. Ofcourse, not all Delhi based films have worked out too well. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Delhi 6 did not have the authentic feel like Rang De Basanti did while Anand Kumar’s Delhii Heights could not move beyond weakly etched characters living in apartment complexes of Gurgaon. If a filmmaker has to make a good film about Delhi, then they must be willing to embrace the city's beauty and ugliness while accurately portraying characters raised in the city’s essence.

Maneesh Sharma has done his homework and as a result his Band Baaja Baaraat can now add its name to films that do Delhi justice and in a sense his film contains a tiny spirit of the above films. BBB combines the energy of Rang De Basanti, the wedding element of Monsoon Wedding, true Dilli dialogue/characters of Dibakar Banerjee’s films, the farmhouses of Let’s Enjoy and the improvisational aspect of Jugaad.

The tagline of Band Baaja Baaraat is “Shadi aapki, tension hamaari” (your wedding, our tension). Now all weddings are a tense affair but a wedding in Delhi brings an extra set of challenges. Delhi's wedding season is just a few months long and based on the auspicious dates given by a priest, only a handful of dates get the biggest number of weddings per year. For example, back on Dec 13 2006, 30,000 weddings were held in a single day and in 2010, the added lure of Valentine’s day & an auspicious date meant that 16,000 weddings were held on Feb 14 alone. Such high numbers stand out but in reality, it is quite common to find thousands of weddings taking place on a single day each wedding season. In a city of more than 13 million people, this huge number of weddings on a single day creates an extra burden on the road systems especially since the shortage of wedding venues requires people to travel from one end of the city to another, not to mention the multiple baaraats and bands also attempting to make their way across the city. On top of that, a lot of the priests and wedding bands are double or triple booked for the same time slot. It is not uncommon to find priests rushing from one wedding to another and band’s arriving late to a wedding because of their other commitments. In such scenarios, holding a wedding in Delhi is a massive challenging affair. So the story of wedding planners set in Delhi makes complete sense.

Band Baaja Baaraat highlights some of the challenges of holding shaadis in either tight alleys of Delhi or in large lavish Sainik farmhouses. With all the challenges, the only way a wedding can be successful is with a degree of improvisation and this is accurately shown in Sharma’s film. One example illustrated is when the wedding planners hit a hurdle in trying to find a caterer within a budget, they get a valid tip from Maqsood (Neeraj Sood) the flowerist. Such tips are common in Delhi where it seems a marriage cannot take place without depending on a contact’s contact. The wedding details are shown in a humorous yet accurate manner but the film really shines in its depiction of the relationship between the two lead characters of Shruti and Bittoo (played brilliantly by Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh respectively). There was a time in the late 1970’s and 1980’s when Yash Chopra’s films went beneath the surface to get at the core of a relationship but ever since his son Aditya Chopra entered the frame in the mid 1990’s, relationships shown in Yash Raj films are all superficial and restricted to cute infatuations. However, the ugly nasty side of relationships is remarkably shown in BBB. After Shruti & Bittoo end up sleeping together, their relationship gets naturally complicated. A difference in expectation leads to a conflict where the two end up becoming bitter enemies and end up at each other’s throats like a married couple. Yet, even in their moments of hatred, the two are able to work side by side with each other because of their strong friendship. A good friendship is essential to any successful relationship and in this regard, Shruti and Bittoo’s interactions make sense. The two are able to work so well because they are aware of each other's likes and dislikes. Throughout the film, the two characters behave according to their personalities and as a result, everything that occurs in the film is entirely believable and does not require a leap of faith.

BBB also shines on the musical front. With the exception of the Dum Dum Song, all the other musical numbers have a place in the film. The opening credit song perfectly lays the framework for the two character’s history and gives us an idea about their personalities. Most Bollywood films spend three hours covering the same ground the opening credit sequence does in a matter of minutes. The title song is perfectly used to increase the tempo of the film and Ainvayi Ainvayi is an infectious dance number.

However, Dum Dum is out of place although it is a lavish over the top number found in a Karan Johar or Aditya Chopra film. If the price of making a fine film like BBB means having a throw away song, then it is a small price to pay.

It is indeed a pleasant surprize to find a wonderful film can still be made from a first time director embedded in the current Bollywood studio model but interestingly, Yash Raj Films have previously given another new director a chance to shine. In Chak De India, partly shot in Delhi, Shimit Amin was allowed to freely move his camera around the newcomer actresses and was not required to ensure the camera stayed focused only on Shah Rukh Khan. BBB remarkably does away with any big stars, with Anushka Sharma the only recognizable face and this is only her third film, after she made her debut opposite SRK in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Lastly, Band Baaja Baaraat also shows that it is entirely possible to make an entertaining film without requiring the audience to “leave their brains at the door.”


ABC said...

An intelligent blog. honest review. keep it up

Sachin said...

Thanks so much your comment :)

Ajay Dhiman said...

very nice blog

Sachin said...

Thanks Ajay :)