Somewhere inside Banjo is a sweet, spirited film about a band of slumdog musicians. You can see it in the innovative way in which director Ravi Jadhav sets up the band members. There’s Paper. He’s called that because he delivers newspapers but he also spends several hours of his day fetching water for his family. So Paper’s grandest dream is a water tanker parked outside his shanty. Grease, spends all day, covered in car oil and dirt – he fantasizes about a white home, white clothes and even a white watch. And then there’s Baaja, who only wants to get on an airplane so he can push a button and have an airhostess ask, how can I help you. These guys put a smile on your face. I was hooked instantly.
But Jhadav’s unique voice gets flattened out quickly. The culprits are a convoluted, over-stuffed storyline, excessive visual razzmatazz and an uneven soundtrack. Jhadav is a celebrated, National-award winning Marathi film director. He’s making his Hindi film debut here but much is lost in translation. The flashes of freshness are drowned by the illogical melodrama. After all, how seriously can you take any film in which a permanently pouty Nargis Fakhri roams around Mumbai slums in tiny shorts looking for a Banjo band? Her character Chris is a New Yorker who comes to Mumbai without any leads – she doesn't have a name or even a photograph. But she’s mesmerized by the music.
Banjo isn’t just about Chris’s search. Jhadav also wants to comment on class wars, what makes a true artist, the transformative power of music and of India. These people might lead hardscrabble lives but they have big hearts. There is a sub-plot about a rival banjo band, land grabbing and even an attempted murder. And at the center of it all is Tarrat, played by Riteish Deshmukh. Tarrat means bewda or drunkard. Tarrat is described as Banjo ki duniya ka Bachchan. He’s a gritty, banjo-playing goon-musician. Tarrat feels like he has stepped out a1980s film. The film labors to showcase him as a rockstar with slow motion entries and one-liners. All the attempts at creating a credible romance between him and Chris are sabotaged by Nargis’s absolute lack of expression. She’s both beautiful and unintentionally comical.
So Ritesh valiantly struggles to hold it together. I enjoyed the small moments like Tarrat describing a coughing old man as hamara cough parade. I also enjoyed Vishal-Shekhar’s energetic Bappa song and the band members, played by Aditya Kumar, Dharmesh Yelande and Ram Menon.
But mostly Banjo is an over-cooked mess.