Of late Hindi cinema has been travelling — into the Indian heartlands, not so much abroad — and taking viewers to cities, towns and villages they may have never even heard of before. Chaman Bahaar is located in one such unique spot — Lormi in Mungeli district of Chhatisgarh. The film captures on screen the region’s distinct topography, culture, language and people; young men to be specific.
A paan shop in Lormi’s outskirts becomes the hang out for the town’s young men to gape at the girl—Rinku (Ritika Badiani) — who has shifted in the house across the road. The paan shop owner Billu (Jitendra Kumar) is secretly in love with her while she is clueless about his affections. Atmanirbhar romance anyone?
Kumar is in good form as the common “lover” man next door. However, the film doesn’t go beyond being an exhaustingly static sketch of the small-town male-centric world. So much so, that the woman at the core remains just an apparition — a fair vision in shorts riding the bike or taking the dog out for a walk — and doesn’t even get to utter a line.
The wallowing in the lives of an assortment of aimless drifters, ineffectual dreamers, needlessly angst-ridden whiners, romantic losers, political players, testosterone-charged aggressors and idiotic stalkers, who all call each other “daddy” in local speak, tests the limits of patience. All a bunch of men who refuse to grow up, prefer staying eternally stupid boys, and then wonder why women run away from them. Is there a better option available to them than that?
By all means, play us the melody of male psyche if that’s what you’d want to call it but don’t give us a scratched record in the bargain with the needle perpetually stuck at one point. All we get to see at the start are repetitive scenes of eyeing and gaping at the woman. And dialogue which plays on balatkar (rape) and talks stuff like “pagalpan sachche aashiq ki nishani hoti hai (madness is the sign of a true lover)”.
Two thirds down the narrative things do pick up, but it’s all to try and build sympathy for these supposedly innocent men. Everything possible is thrown into the plot — from vague references to Operation Majnu to a hotheaded policeman to an opportunistic politician to a sadhu who rues about being ditched by his love. All of which eventually turns out to be a forgettable mess. The only other element that I liked about the film, apart from a sincere and invested Kumar, was the opening credits sequence. It’s a nice touch, that!
Chaman Bahaar is currently streaming on Netflix