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Chaman Bahaar review: Jitendra Kumar's sincere performance is the only highlight of this wayward story

Release Date: 19 Jun 2020


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Shriram Iyengar

Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann's film has the emotions and slow pace of a short story going for it but seems to lack currency and is tone-deaf.

At a time when 'woke' seems to be in and filmmakers and writers are increasingly aware of how they portray romance, Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann's Chaman Bahaar feels like the odd man out. The film takes you back to the small towns of India's heartland where these sentiments are still to make headway. While the film's pace and emotions strike the right chord, the overall effect is of a film that is tone-deaf to developments around the world.

Billu's only dream is to open a small paan (betel leaf) shop in a small town. If the dream feels small, it is because it belongs to a man who does not do big things. The son of a forest ranger, Billu's greatest rebellion is to refuse a government job and decide to start an enterprise of his own. Unfortunately, the prime location where he buys the paan shop loses its value when the government office is moved closer to the highway. But his fortune changes when the new engineer in town takes the vacant bungalow and moves in with his fair daughter, Rinku (Ritika Badiani).

Soon, Billu's paan shop, Chaman Bahaar, is the epicentre of action for upcoming politicians, goons, loafers and louts who vie to catch a glimpse of Rinku. Among these is Billu, who now has to hatch a plan to stand out in that crowd. In a way, the story is more about the paan shop than everything else.

The film was to mark Jitendra Kumar's debut as a leading man, except that Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020) was released earlier this year.

In view of his recent work in Kota Factory (2019), Panchayat (2020) and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Chaman Bahaar feels like a let-down. But the actor still delivers a sincere performance as the love-struck Billu who finds himself outmatched in strength, fame or money. The struggle of being a small-town loser who dreams big for once is brought to life by him.

The casting for the film is quite interesting, with Bhuvan Arora and Dhirendra Tiwari (Somu and Chhotu) playing the instigators for the whole drama. The two create some funny situational comedy. The evolution of an entire business circuit and ecosystem around the 'stalking' is a sad but true portrait of life in the small towns. It feels funny standing with the men, but one can well imagine how terrifying it would have been for the girl and her family. Perhaps, that is why we never hear her.

While the situational comedy falls in place, the film lacks any serious conflict. This derails any sense of drama in the story. With Rinku an almost wordless character, almost like a mythical figure everyone desires, the audience is viewing the story from a very male perspective. In that sense, it resembles Kabir Singh (2019), with a lot less melodrama and violence. The director, also the writer of the film, tries to make the ending positive with Billu's regret, but it fails to land right. Perhaps better handling of the story from a different perspective would have helped.

One of the key moments of conflict could have been between Billu and his father. While his father aspires for Billu to be successful in business, get married and settle down to a happy life, Billu's desires drive him to almost lose everything. While Badgaiyann's story shows glimpses of this relationship, it fails to build on it. Thus, when the heartbreak and disappointment arrives, the audience is a little detached from it.

Despite these flaws, the story has its moments. Jitendra Kumar's performance aside, the film has a simple structure and relatable context. It is a different matter that the context is that of a large group of older men stalking a schoolgirl. Disturbing, yes, but true in many parts of the country. In Chaman Bahaar, it comes out in the form of a gentle, simplistic tale, if that is any comfort for anyone.

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