I remember Banjo players from when I was a kid growing up between Shivaji Park and Girgaum, the heart of banjo land. Every Ganapati festival I heard so much of the banjo music that I got my dad to buy me a bulbul tarang as the banjo was called and I used to try and play like the people I saw in the visarjan processions.
Banjo is about one such band that comprises 4 guys- one a mechanic, the other a newspaper delivery guy, the third who spends his life filling water from the tankers for his family and Taraat who is an extortionist for a local politician. They play in Ganapati ‘visarjans’, Navratri and assorted local functions. Their music catches the attention of a New York based artist who wants to make two songs with them to submit to a music competition. She comes to Mumbai to look for them and in the process gets involved in their lives also. Does the Banjo band manage to get out of its squalid circumstances and see themselves as musicians or are they fated to remain where they are treating their music only as a source of income and not as a vocation?
The movie is shot lovingly in a slum and you can feel the Director Ravi Jadhav’s empathy towards the people he captures. The band guys are hard up people trying to find joy in their music while trying to make a quick buck out of it. When an exotic foreigner lands up in their midst they are a bit dazzled to begin with but quickly take it in their stride, and fall into her plans with enthusiasm. The movie is peppered with some funny moments and some superb dialogues that keep you entertained. The length of the movie is a problem and there are portions that could clearly have been done away with to keep the movie snappier. The story also takes very long to build up, till the interval to be precise, and you get a bit impatient with things. Post interval too the pace is not as fast as it could have been but the overall sincerity of the movie and the dramatic moments keep you engaged.
The performances are good. Riteish as Taraat, enjoys being a rock star (As much as a banjo player can be made to look like one). Nargis Fakhri as Chris the New York artist looks good in her shorts and is sweet and sincere. I like the way her clothes change to more sedate Kurtis as she stays longer in Mumbai and gets to be comfortable in the slum. The scene where she gives gaalis to her boss is quite hilarious. Luke Kenny is wonderful as Mike, Chris’ contact in Mumbai. His down to earth firang who can speak fluent Marathi is a delight to watch. It was great seeing him on screen after a long time. The chemistry between the band members is very good thanks to the good acting by all of them. Dharmesh Yelande as the English speaking mechanic stands out for his intensity. I loved the politician
Vishal Shekhar’s music is infectious and reflective of the street music played by these bands They manage successfully to mix it with rock elements to create some good catchy numbers. I loved the slow romantic song the most, more so because if the way it has been picturised. Taraat’s imagination doesn’t transport him and Chris to a Swiss mountain but is played out in the slum itself which I found very charming.
Banjo is an entertaining film with a heart. You see how difficult life is for a large section of our population-the daily fight for basic necessities-water, shelter, education came through to you subtly. It is a celebration of street culture and music that may be looked down upon in a fancy nightclub but that strikes a chord with the masses as they dance at festivals like it’s a big open air disco. You won’t be disappointed with this movie and next time even join in a visarjan procession and dance to the beats of a banjo band.