Despite being hyped as a gripping crime thriller, the film spirals into a cringe-inducing love story
Story: An aspiring filmmaker Sakshi (Mamta Mohandas) decides to investigate the death of a prominent Bollywood actress in the ‘90s. Sakshi hopes that solving the mystery behind Tara Janaki’s (Tamannaah Bhatia) death will offer a relatively riveting story for her debut film. Sakshi eventually finds a man who narrates the truth behind Tara’s death and her whirlwind love story with a mysterious man named Aala.
Review: The film’s opening credits offer a graphic novel-styled set of frames showcasing a man involved in a knife fight with a few individuals at Bandra, Bombay. One would expect this to be the film's tone – similar in style and aesthetic to Mammootty’s Bheeshma Parvam. But the film quickly subverts into an investigative mystery where a young filmmaker decides to investigate the alleged suicide of a yesteryear actor named Tara Janaki. As the case has been considered closed by law enforcement, she is repeatedly told that her investigation will reap no rewards. Therein lies the film’s first major plot hole. If Tara Janaki was indeed the biggest box-office draw in the ‘90s, her suicide would’ve surely been extensively covered by the media, and a film based on her story would’ve been done long before an amateur filmmaker stumbles upon it. This flaw becomes more profound in the film’s final scene, considering the aftermath of Tara’s death involved plenty of violence in the presence of hundreds of witnesses.
If one were to brush the aforementioned plot hole aside, they would, unfortunately, be met with a barrage of several more in addition to a few set pieces that require a complete suspension of disbelief. While these deficiencies can be expected from a ‘mass entertainer’, what is unforgivable is that the narrative spirals into one of the most unconvincing love stories. Lead star Dileep, who plays Aala, sports a look which appears to be heavily inspired by Mammootty in Bheeshma Parvam. Aala’s house and vehicle, and even the slow-motion fight sequences in the rain are unfortunately lifted straight from the Mammootty film, which is not even a benchmark action film. Tara Janaki’s decision to turn up at Aala’s house one night plays out like the fantasy of a hormone-fuelled teenager about their celebrity crush. Tara’s reasons to seek refuge at a complete stranger’s house lack conviction. And the lack of chemistry between Tara and Aala makes for an odd couple.
Expecting reason and logic in a masala film is irrational, but the narrative fails to offer anything fresh or intriguing. It is a mashup of several outdated tropes and cliches. It is quite astonishing that a Malayalam film in 2023 would lean on a ‘damsel in distress’ and ‘knight in shining armour’ as its central plot devices. But what is more inexplicable is how poorly the characters have been cast. Easwari Rao who plays Aala’s mother, Rosamma, could easily pass off as Aala’s younger sibling. This is not a far-fetched comparison since Rao is seven years younger than Dileep in real life. Whereas Mamata Mohandas is unable to pull off the character of a struggling amateur filmmaker, as she exudes the persona of someone who was born into privilege. Dileep, despite being a capable actor, is unable to convince that Aala is not a man to be trifled with, nor a charming romantic lead.
If the larger-than-life protagonist and over-the-top action sequences can be overlooked the story at its core did have a compelling arc that should’ve been explored. Instead of a nuanced exploration of how even the lead actresses in Bollywood suffered trauma and abuse in the ‘90s, it leans towards a cliched love story and poorly choreographed fight sequences. Ganesh as Aala’s trusted adviser Babu and Dino Morea as the villain Raghavendra Desai are the only bright spots in an otherwise tedious two-and-half-hour film. Tamannaah Bhatia is at ease in portraying the troubled Bollywood star Tara Janaki. In fact, Tara Janaki’s final film before her death, Rani Padmini, gives one the impression that it could be more compelling than the real film Bandra.
Verdict: Bandra promises far too much and delivers far too little. Despite featuring a star-studded ensemble, director Arun Gopy’s Malayalam film is devoid of originality, a coherent story, and compelling characters.