(Published in The Sunday Guardian on 15 April 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/perfect-in-every-way)
Cast: Milind Shinde, Mitalee Jagtap Varadkar, Vivek Chabukswar
Director: Rajesh Pinjani
Rating: 5 stars
It’s a rare film that appears flawless in retrospect. It’s a rare film that makes you laugh as much as it makes you cry. Then again, it’s a rare film that wins three National awards. Babu Band Baaja fetched Rajesh Pinjani the award for Best Debut Film, Mitalee Jagtap Varadkar for Best Actress, and Vivek Chabukswar for Best Child Artist at the 58th National Awards.
Having decided to make a film on brass bands, Rajesh Pinjani stayed in Kamthi village near Nagpur for eighteen months to study their lives. The research shows, and Pinjani’s beautifully-structured narrative is supported by a cast that fills out the characters with such conviction it’s hard to believe Jaggu (Milind Shinde), Babu (Vivek Chabukswar) and Shirmi (Mitalee Jagtap Varadkar) are fictional.
Jaggu’s family has been playing in a band for as long as any of his ancestors can remember. He assumes his son will take to this thankless family profession. Jaggu’s big dream is to start his own brass band, Babu Band Baaja – that will be his inheritance to his son, a group of men in spotless uniforms carrying sparkling instruments, a band party named after Babu.
Shirmi has other ideas. She sees education as the only way out of crippling poverty. To Jaggu’s frustration, she refuses to let Babu bunk school to perform. Babu doesn’t help her cause when he loses his school bag and books, well into the academic year, so she can’t even buy second hand replacements. Her fight for his continued education makes for the main plotline.
There are several ancillary plots and characters that help us zoom out to the larger picture: Jaggu’s friend, whose daughter shames him by eloping with a creepy photographer (who later plays a pivotal role in the story); a madwoman who loves playing with Babu and his friend because they don’t judge her; Babu’s prospective girlfriend who gives him tips like, “Start crying. Then your parents will give you whatever you want. It works for me”; Babu’s paternal grandmother, who disguises her fondness for her daughter-in-law with snide remarks.
Babu Band Baaja is a story that hasn’t been told before, and it makes us think about issues from angles we haven’t considered before. For instance, when an MLA announces that he will conduct a mass wedding, how does it affect the livelihood of brass bands? When the demand for bandwallahs is going down, what does it do to their sense of fraternity? The film takes us on the same journey as its characters, giving us hope right after making us despair.
The Verdict: This is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Don’t miss it on the big screen!