Vidarbha. If one is playing word association he/she is most likely to associate this word with farmer suicides. Over the years the large number of farmer suicides in Vidarbha has, sadly, made the region being identified with it. It has also made for some cinematic fodder. Gabhricha Paus(The Damned Rain) was brilliant in capturing the Vidarbha cotton farmer’s situation in the drought prone region. Jhing Chik Jhing adopted a much more bright and positive outlook. Amazingly, the makers of Baboo Band Baajaa were observant enough to find a story in Vidarbha which was equally if not more captivating than that of the cotton farmers.
Bandwallahs are common in all places in India. The peculiarity of the Vidarbha bandwallah is that he doesn’t play only at weddings but also at funerals and other occasions like the birth of a child. Baboo Band Baaja is a heartening story of such kind of a band member and his family’s struggle to lift themselves up from abject poverty. The film is also a fine portrayal of a tug-of-war between fate and poverty. A done to death subject? The struggles of a ‘bandwallah’ to meet his ends were hereunto undiscovered in cinema. And therein lays the film’s strength.
Shantanu Rode, the scriptwriter, excels in capturing the nitty-gritties of the life of a typical band member in Vidarbha. The songs they play, the instruments used, certain events which are of importance to their livelihood have all a sense of authenticity to them. As the story unfolds we get a sneak peek into the life of the protagonist, Jaggu, who once had a band of his own but had to pawn his instruments for some money. He now makes do with playing at funerals and other not so lucrative occasions. His wife Shirmi being a ‘bhandiwali’ sells vessels for a living and also accepts old clothes in return for some money. She, unlike Jaggu, wants their only son Baboo to get educated and break the shackles of poverty. Jaggu’s mother who also lives with them tries to be of some help to the family by selling handicraft items. These are the main characters around which the story revolves.
There’s also a parallel love story involving the daughter of a family friend of Jaggu’s. This love angle though has not been used only for its own sake. Rode, very smartly integrates it into the plot. The character of a crazy woman of the village, astoundingly, is also quite influential to the plot. The script which has no visible loose ends shines out. Shantanu Rode, who has also written the dialogues for the 2005 animated feature Hanuman, is without doubt a man to watch out for.
Baboo, played convincingly by Vivek Chabukswar, is a sincere student who shows interest in studies but due to his economic conditions there are quite a few obstacles in his way. Having a father who doesn’t encourage his schooling also doesn’t help. But Baboo doesn’t lose his resolve to learn. His mother makes him a makeshift notebook out of a few loose pages. Baboo’s school teacher though doesn’t approve of the notebook and punishes him by repeatedly hitting it on his head. While facing the punishment Baboo is more worried about his book and pleads with his teacher to stop hitting him not because it is hurting him but the notebook, made with so much love by his mother, will tear.
There are a few poignant moments between Jaggu’s wife Shirmi and their son Baboo. A scene where the school pant for her son that Shirmi trades with vessels ends up being too loose, brings a smile on your face.
The acting by the leads is up to the mark. Milind Shinde who plays the protagonist Jaggu is brilliant in showing the despair that his character feels. You completely feel for Jaggu as a broke bandwallah especially when he says that committing suicide is also not going to help as unlike the cotton farmers his family isn’t going to get any compensation. It strikes suddenly realize that the state of a bandwallah in Vidarbha is no better than the farmers. Mitali Jagtap Vartak as Shirmi is spot on. A scene where she acts while also bathing a just born baby, leaves you particularly impressed.
The presence of a cotton mill in the village is given away by the typical siren of a mill which runs in the background when the characters are going about the daily duties. Such subtlety deserves appreciation.
Throughout the film it is visible that the makers are trying to tell a story in an honest manner. In a premise tailor made for over the top melodrama, the restraint and the effort to show humor in the routine and also difficult times of life is definitely applause worthy. No wonder then that Baaboo Band Baajaa ended up getting 4 National Awards.
Now, whether the film will be applauded by the masses remains to be seen. The director-producer Rajesh Pinjani though doesn’t plan to release it any soon. He hopes to get it to various international festivals first and gain some reputation. With the difficulty involved in releasing an offbeat marathi film in India one hopes that Baboo Band Baaja is bought by some foreign distributors like Gabhricha Paus did. The similarity of the title of the film to the popular Yashraj film Band Baaja Baarat will be helpful to the cause of the film or would go against it also remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that the film is very likely to strike a chord with filmgoers. Let’s hope that the film does get a good release and reaches a very wide audience which it certainly deserves.