If you’re into eating betel leaves, better known as ‘Paan’, then the term ‘Chaman Bahar’ is not new to you. For the uninitiated, Chaman Bahar is the sweetener that enhances the flavour of the paan. Be it the Mitha, Sada or the Zarda wala paan, Chaman Bahar becomes a must condiment in each of these types. For the experts, it remains one of the hugely debatable topics, as some say that an excess of Chaman Bahar destroys the taste of the paan. All these analogies fit a T, for the new Netflix film ‘Chaman Bahar’, directed by debutante director Apurva Dhar Badgaiyan. It’s an interesting take about a paan shop, that’s on the outskirts of the district and its owner. How the advent of a pretty girl to the locality, wakes up the sleepy town of Lormi forms the crux of the story. 

Billu, the son of the local forest guard, dislikes his job of guarding the forest range. In a tryst to carve a niche for himself, he sets up a paan shop called ‘Chaman Bahar’. A jurisdictional change in district headquarters puts his shop at the farthest end of the district border and shatters his dream of becoming an entrepreneur, with decreasing footfall. But as fate would have it, the Divisional Forest Officer aka DFO sets his household right opposite of Billu’s shop. Soon the footfalls at the shop increases, thanks to the DFO’s daughter, who becomes the talk of the town. The Romeos of the town, set their roving eyes on this girl, to the discomfort of Billu, who has already fallen for her. The game of oneupmanship continues, with the shop being the mute spectator.

Director Apurva takes his time to set the premise. The fact that the director himself belongs to Chattisgarh plays a huge role as the dialect, the small-town politics and the people, they all come together in the film, as a well-balanced melange. Been born and brought up in a similar town, I could recollect certain memories that resembled the events that happen in the film. The director ensures some of the daft scenes of the film look authentic because they look inspired by real-life scenarios. The weird but colloquial terms such as Daddy, Lapara they make appearances to make the local lingo look genuine. The analogy of a game of carom, where to take the queen, you’ve to get rid of lesser coins first, becomes the theme of the movie, as we see the game of carrom becoming a major focal point of the film. Because of these things only, the film becomes an interesting watch.

Coming to the awkward parts of the film is the toxic masculinity that the film is based upon. The protagonist of the film exhibits textbook behaviour of an eccentric, jilted lover as he sets on a mission to woo the girl. As his plans falter, he takes the usual route of slut-shaming the girl. A film that doesn’t give a single dialogue to its female lead and encourages eve-teasing, as well as harassment, could’ve been problematic. Perhaps, the director didn’t want to showcase the side of the girl, who faces the harassment day in day out. The fact that the girl’s family becomes traumatised with each incident and eventually are forced to relocate is a testament of the ordeal that people go through in such scenarios in real life. Unfortunately, this also reminds me of certain incidents that I had seen, while I was growing up in Bhubaneswar. At the very end, the director shows his protagonist to be repentant of his actions, as he finally could relate with the trauma that the family goes through. This statement itself becomes the saviour of the film, as it stops short of becoming problematic.

The film works really well, thanks to its ensemble cast. Jitender Kumar as the protagonist Billu gives one of his best performances. Here we have an actor, who’s ready to let go of his inhibitions for the sake of his craft. Bhuvan Arora and Dhirendra Tiwari as Somu and Chotu, get the best lines of the film. Alam Khan and Ashwini Kumar as the arch enemies Shila and Ashu are strictly good. Ritika Badiani as Rinku Nanoriya has a great screen presence but unfortunately doesn’t have a single dialogue. Yogendra Tikku as Billu’s father Ramayan does well. The music is soulful with Do Ka Chaar by Sonu Nigam being the pick of the track. Kaand by Mohan Kannan is a great track along with Gupchup. Billu’s theme song in the form of a Chhattisgarhi folk song by Sunil Soni is a stirring track and stays with you after the film.

After some absolute disappointments, finally, Netflix has come up with a great Indian content cinema. Watch ‘Chaman Bahar’ for its freshness and quirks from small-town India. You won’t be disappointed.

‘Chaman Bahar’ now streaming worldwide on Netflix. Running time 111 minutes. Parental Guidance for some crude languages and slangs.

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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