A new Hindi movie from Yash Raj Films usually comes with a lot of expectations, even if of mediocrity. But I had no exposure to director Maneesh Sharma‘s Band Baaja Baaraat before I stepped into the cinema. I was hoping it would be one of the production house’s better efforts at the sort of slick popular entertainment films that they are know for. I’m happy to say that Band Baaja Baaraat is much more, and one of the first truly astonishing Hindi films I have seen in a very long time.
On the streets of Delhi there is popular street food served called the Golgappa (Pani Puri in Bombay). It is a small, crisp and hollow ball of fried dough(puri), filled with potato, onion, chickpeas, and a water(pani) consisting of tamarind, chaat masala, and chilli. This entire piece of food engineering is meant to fit into your mouth, at which point the crisp puri breaks and the contents explode into your mouth with a bizarre mixture of sweet and spicy flavours, textures and temperatures. It is a uniquely Indian experience and to me is the essence of India in a neatly packaged culinary metaphor.
Mostly set in the streets and wedding parties of Delhi, Band Baaja Baaraat reminds me of the golgappa because like that wonderful dish, Maneesh Sharma manages to make this movie a quintessentially Indian experience. The story is of two young graduates from the colleges of Delhi, Bittoo Sharma and Shruti Kakkar who become unlikely partners in a wedding planning business. The story follows them and their business through its ups, downs, and the intense revelry that is an essential part of any Indian wedding movie. Only this typical Bollywood story doesn’t give you one, but a cavalcade of weddings and dancing guests in an explosion of cinematic flavour.
First time actor Ranveer Singh plays Bittoo, an easy going boy who wants to avoid going back to work on his father’s sugar-cane fields, and Anushka Sharma plays Shruti, an ambitious girl who wants to start her own wedding planning business before she settles down with husband and children in tow as per her parent’s wishes. The resourceful Bittoo hangs on to Shruti, the one with a plan, and the two of them begin to take over the wedding market of Delhi’s middle class, one loud wedding at a time. They are helped on their road to increasing success by their suppliers and advisors in the business, Manmeet Singh as Rajinder Singh the caterer, Neeraj Sood as Maqsood the florist, and Revant Shergill as Santy the musician.
On one level, Band Baaja Baaraat is your typical, albeit supremely entertaining, romantic-comedy film from the Bollywood school of film-making, but it is also a well crafted piece of cinema. It not only does justice to the characters as very distinct and individual people but also captures their relationships and interactions with nuance and sensitivity. In doing all of this the film creates a heightened, but still completely realistic, diorama of life, business, love, family and celebration in India, not as it is in the movies, but as it is for more flesh-and-bones people.
The witty and cutting dialogue, by Habib Faisal, infused with the rich flavour of Delhi slang and North-Indian cadence is a perfect framework on which many layers of attention to detail are laid down, and which bursts into greater colour during the many songs. The songs are not only appropriate but come with beautiful music from the dexterous hands of Salim-Sulaiman. All this is presented in alternately glamorous and down-to-earth, but always beautiful, cinematography by Aseem Mishra.
Beyond the filmic niceties, I appreciated Band Baaja Baaraat for its more intangible qualities. The characters are extremely real. While still fictional dramatisations, there is little distance between them and their motivations, and what you would expect of similar people in the real world. The credit for this must go to writer, director, and the actors themselves for bringing that honesty to it. I also liked that the production does away with almost every melodramatic device and simply tells a story focussed on the protagonists. There are no sudden surprise entries by villainous elements, no evil relatives, no convoluted plot twists, and no games. They tell it straight.
There were various broad choices made about the story and characters here that were signs of hope for me for the future. Gone are the days of cut-out protagonists in vague corporate jobs or indefinite family businesses, gone are the dramatic and staged boy-girl meetings and ensuing text-book romances, gone are the pretences of propriety and expected standards in the relationship of the protagonists. It’s all thrown out to tell a tale of surprising reality. This movie broadens the audience’s expectations from fiction, and ultimately life; People don’t all want to land a cushy job, starting a business is actually a lot of leg work, there is real work involved, and there is real friendship without constant romantic foreshadowing between the protagonists as they build their dream. If films are a reflection of our times and a inspiration for those who will grow up idolising them, I wish India was making many more films like this one.
Band Baaja Baaraat is a beautiful film, to look at, to listen to, and to be lost in with the characters, while the director deftly tells a simple tale with confidence. It is a very Indian film, it is that golgappa I spoke of earlier, a creature that could only have been born on the streets of India, and it is the better for it. This film has a lot of first-timers among both cast and crew and I believe they have a thing or two to show the more experienced hands in the Hindi film industry. Maneesh Sharma and all involved in this enterprise have had the bravery, and the plain decency, to give us what is one of the most authentically Indian film-viewing experiences that I have seen for many years. This is unashamedly an Indian film. This is as astonishing film. This is a film I would gladly show anyone, from the film-crazy masses in the vast sub-continent, to people out there in the wider world who have never heard of Bollywood, and I would tell them with pleasure that we made this.