Banjo movie review: Riteish Deshmukh and Nargis Fakhri’s musical drama is a confused film!

After the leak and later debacle of Great Grand Masti, Riteish Deshmukh once again returns to the silver screen, this time without Aftab Shivdasani and Vivek Oberoi giving him company. Banjo is his solo Hindi film after a long time, and it is directed by his close associate, Ravi Jadhav. Jadhav has directed acclaimed Marathi films like Bal Gandharva, Natarang and Balak Palak, the last one produced by Riteish Deshmukh himself. Nargis Fakhri plays the female lead, making this her fourth cinematic outing this year, after Azhar, Housefull 3 and that cameo in Dishoom. Banjo is set in Mumbai and revolves around a local orchestra band’s journey to stardom. This will also be the first time that Riteish Deshmukh goes massy in Bollywood after successfully going so in the Marathi film, Lai Bhaari. Here’s our review of Banjo…

What’s it about

Kris (Nargis Fakhri), a musician based in New York hears a song from a local banjo band in Mumbai sent by her friend, Mikey (Luke Kenny). Wanting to use them to record two singles and participate in some music festival, she arrives in Mumbai to find the band. Sent to the slums of Dharavi by her friend’s uncle for an assignment, she meets Taraat (Riteish Deshmukh) and his friends, Grease (Dharmesh Yelande), Paper (Aditya Kumar) and Vajaya (Ram Menon). At first she doesn’t know that the lovelorn Taraat and his friends are the band members she is looking for. Once she finds out their musical talents, she convinces them to record those songs while also playing at an esteemed club. However, with a jealous rival, land mafia and a lecherous studio manager involved, their musical journey is full of bumps and cracks like the narrative of the film.

What’s hot

If Banjo is supposed to be an ode to the always alive spirit of Mumbai and the local band players you see at Ganpati pandals, then Banjo succeeds to some extent. Director Ravi Jadhav, has to be appreciated for taking the film to the slums of Mumbai and the busy lanes in front of CST. It has been a long time that Bollywood has left the posh locales of the upper middle class to focus on those strata of citizens that form the majority of our population. Like Taraat says in the movie, they don’t get enough to drink because the water goes to the rich. The same applies to films as well. Banjo has a milieu that connects with the common man of Mumbai, which the director could have utilised better. But more on that later. Banjo actually comes to life when the film focuses on Taraat and his friends and when they perform together. Vishal-Shekhar has also given some terrific tunes to the film. The picturization and composition of the Ganpati songs in the start and the finale as well as Rada song scores high marks. The camaraderie between the gang is nice thanks to the hilarious lines that they throw at each other. A couple of scenes are intelligently written, like the one where a local corporator explains to a builder why a vacant ground is important to the people living in the slums through a tennis ball. However, such scenes are far and few. Coming to the performances, almost everyone is great. Riteish gives a confident performance, but he is often upstaged by his comrades whenever the camera focuses on them. Dharmesh, Aditya and Ram Menon are terrific in their supporting roles. Mahesh Shetty who plays their rival banjo leader, is fantastic too. I also wonder why a talented Luke Kenny doesn’t get much to do these days.

What’s not

Like I said before, if the film was an ode to Mumbai and band players, it has succeeded to some extent. But as a film with a music at its core, Banjo is a very confused film. It doesn’t know what exactly to focus on – Kris’ travails in Mumbai, Taraat’s infatuation with her or the actual journey of the band. Banjo only worked when it focussed on the last part, the makers insists on Taraat flirting with Kris, and Kris’ on emotional journey and how much this band means to her. Not a bad idea, if competently handled. Unfortunately, lazy writing, snooze-worthy editing and average performances make these scenes very boring. And to those you add the subplots of land-grabbing, attempted murder and forced tension among the band members, and you are left twiddling your fingers waiting for the film to end. The film takes an entire first half for Kris to even recognise the band members and that really tested my patience. It also doesn’t help matters that Banjo has shades of Rock On and ABCD, and the presence of Luke Kenny and Dharmesh respectively only keeps reminding of the same clichés that both the films had, which Banjo loved to follow. Come on, a lecherous executive who is in the way of the heroes is a cliche that we have used and abused many times. The change of heart of a negative character, till then, is also confusing. Even most of the comedy scenes struggle to make us smile.

If Banjo had been made by a lesser-known director, these flaws were forgivable to some extent. But Ravi Jadhav is a man who gave us Natarang and Bal Gandharva, so this mess of a film is inexcusable. While Riteish as a performer is adept as always, the idea to make him massy falls flat, especially those scenes that insist on making him look tough. Nargis Fakhri is decent, until she speaks Hindi, cry or basically has to emote.

What to d,o

Banjo would have been a really good entertainer, if the film had stuck to what the title had promised, instead of straying to other subplots. If you are a Mumbaikar then this is a one time watch for you.

Rating: 2.5 out of 52.5 Star Rating

Reviewed by Sreeju Sudhakaran

* Poor

** Average

*** Good

**** Very good

***** Excellent