Director – Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann
Cast – Jitendra Kumar, Ritika Badiani, Bhuvan Arora, Alam Khan
It’s unusual for a film to open with a deleted scene. It is even more unusual for it to be based on a wildly inappropriate premise that unfolds without a hint of irony, but somehow, Chaman Bahaar manages to do both.
The latest in a seemingly unending line of movies produced by Yoodlee Films for various streaming platforms, Chaman Bahaar is among the worst. Especially since the banner’s last release, which debuted only a week ago, was the rather enjoyable Axone. I’m sure director Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann had the best intentions, but to make what can essentially be described as ‘Male Gaze: The Movie’ in the year 2020 feels tremendously tone-deaf.
Watch the Chaman Bahaar trailer here
The beloved actor Jitendra Kumar (Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan and Amazon’s Panchayat) stars as Billu, a ‘panwadi’ in a nondescript middle-India town. Much to his dismay, Billu realises that the spot he has picked to set up a new shop is as barren as the bleak landscape that surrounds it. Hours go by between customers, and even when someone does stop by, Billu is invariably out of stock. The only company he has is his two friends, who seem to be as jobless as him.
But Billu’s fortunes turn when a government employee and his family move into the empty bungalow across the street. Their arrival attracts the small town’s entire male population, which parks itself at Billu’s shop in order to get a glimpse of the man’s teenage daughter. Everyday, like clockwork, when the girl takes her dog out for a walk, dozens of men, having already occupied prime positions around Billu’s shop, drool at her from a safe distance. Business is finally booming. Billu’s shop has become an ‘adda’ for ‘laundabaazi’.
But how is it possible, Chaman Bahaar begs of its audience, for a sexually frustrated young Indian man to see an attractive girl and not immediately mark her as his own? And that is what happens to Billu, who finds that he, too, has been smitten by Rinku.
JItendra Kumar in a still from Chaman Bahaar.
And so he does what every crazed lover in bad Hindi films seems to do — he slashes her initials on his arm, carves their names on a rock, and stares shamelessly at her for hours on end while Sonu Nigam wails in the background. He doesn’t receive so much as a passing glance in return. But such is the intensity of Billu’s obsession that he even contrives scenarios to deter the increasing crowd of men from visiting his shop.
As if this weren’t ridiculous enough, let me take a second to point out that Rinku — literally an object of these men’s desires — is a schoolgirl. She isn’t of age. She’s a minor. And this isn’t Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Haraamkhor.
It is, instead, an unconscionable drag in the name of entertainment. For the majority of its running time, I was second-guessing myself, wondering if I’ve missed something — perhaps an indication that the film is, of course, against stalker behaviour, and that it doesn’t for a moment condone harassment of any kind, let alone of an underage girl. But no such luck.
And then, as if to erase my doubts, Billu in one scene hurls a rock at a stray dog that was growling at Rinku on one of her walks, and drains himself of every last drop of redeemability that he might have had. He looks at her, chest puffed out, a proud smile on his face. He believes that he has done a heroic deed. Chaman Bahaar thinks it’s a romantic love story.
The brainless escapade continues for close to two mind-numbing hours, and ends with Billu, like Kabir Singh, essentially being rewarded for his perseverance. I’m revealing this detail so that you are left with no justifiable reason to watch this movie.