Format: Web Series
Platform: MX Player
Screenwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar made an interesting observation about the trend of changing heroes and heroines in the film industry. At the time when Akhtar wrote his characters in the ‘70s and 80s, they represented small-town idealism and simple but big dreams. This was forgotten over the next few decades as more teenage angst and diaspora values became the backdrop for films. In the last few years, however, there has been a resurgence of small-town movies (most of them love stories) where the boy and girl (sometimes boy again) represent the dichotomy of growing up in that environment, the need to own their individuality while also respecting tradition. Mannphodganj Ki Binny is a series in the vein as movies like Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Badrinath Ki Dulhania etc. etc in the way it employs the simplicity and quirkiness of its people, and finds a lot to say in smaller interactions, than a larger plot.
Meet the vivacious heroine Binny who wears her heart on her sleeve. She is one of the most sought-after young ladies in this little town of Mannphodganj, Allahabad. A bastardisation of Mumfordganj (yes, this area actually exists), ‘Mann-phod’ ganj is shown as the centre of literal heartbreak and tragic love stories. Binny is a free-spirit who may or may not be ready for a committed relationship but does want to fall in love. Over the course of the next ten episodes, we see her oscillate between some worthy and some not-so-worthy suitors, even as her parents try to find her a proper husband. Much of the show’s humour comes from the fact that Binny’s father owns a ‘lingiri’ (lingerie) store and can identify a woman’s bust size just by looking at it, a local goon and his henchman who try to win over Binny’s family, and the protagonist’s own naive escapades.
Adapted from Rachna Singh’s novel ‘Band Baaja Boys,’ Mannphodganj is created by the combined team of TV veterans Tony and Deeya Singh, and premium OTT show creators Applause Entertainment. The way the show is presented is somewhat reminiscent of the kind of work we have seen from DJ’s in the 90s and 2000s with shows like Jabb Love Hua, Annu Ki Ho Gayee Waah Bhai Waah and Radhaa Ki Betiyaan Kuch Kar Dikhayengi, with the production value that suits any mainstream movie. The plot is a bit dated but what it really gets is a fresh perspective from the point of view of its refreshing protagonist.
When we meet Binni, she is attending a friend’s wedding. She and two of her friends, including the bride, are discussing their expectations from their love life. The bride has just dumped a lover for a better prospect. Binni wants to date the local stud. She is later asked by a nosey aunty, ‘beta…aap shaadi kab karoge?’ Binni is defiant and confident but not rude. She treads the thin line between her progressive outlook and her traditional upbringing in a way that almost every girl brought up in India would find rather familiar. Eventually, we also see Binny casually seeing a few boys, feeling her way through the dating game. In one case, she actively pursues the guy as well. Another, she turns his advances down gently citing that she doesn’t feel a ‘love connection’ with him. Binni is written as a modern woman who is and should enjoy the agency to choose how she lives her life and how she would pick a life/love partner. Binny’s parents may embody small-town values but they are highly supportive as well. The wish to see her marry stems more from affection where they also want to see her end up with a man who lets her dreams take flight.
On that note, even the men in Binny’s life are not all bad. For a show set in a small town, it is easy to portray most men as regressive male chauvinists. In Binny’s imprudence, the men she most fancies are probably not worthy of long-term commitment, but there are plentiful men in her life who respect her as an individual. At one point, she is saved from being assaulted by Raja, the local goon who’s in love with her. This does not automatically incline her to feel indebted to marry him. This is especially noteworthy because the setting of the show is so specific yet dated tropes are subverted in its writing. Mannphodganj is the quintessential small town where everyone knows everyone’s business and gossip travels fast. There are quirky characters who embody the colloquialisms of Uttar Pradesh in the way they go about their daily business. But the way its people are shown, we’d hope that there was such an environment in a big city as well.
Pranati Rai Prakash is a newbie and the show utilises her raw lack of restraint well. She channels her energy in a way which is reminiscent of Kareena Kapoor as Geet in Jab We Met. It is a role which isn’t designed to please. Her beliefs, likes and interests, in fact, are precisely the kind of idealism the modern cynical world cannot accept. So it is a testament to good casting that we still find her likable. But more than Binny, it is veteran actors Atul Srivastava and Alka Chauhan who get the funniest quips and edgy sequences. Almost anything that happens at the father’s store or any interaction that mum has with God is worthy of a re-watch.
These are the kind of vignettes that make the show because the overarching story is rather dull. In terms of screenplay, there’s not a lot to hold on to in terms of Binny’s pursuit for love. Some of her escapades seem a bit unnecessary and Raja’s constant attempt at trying to infiltrate her family’s good books is exhausting. There are dramatic twists which are added for convenience of forgotten sub-plots. The final episode is a dramatic crescendo but layered with inconsistency in characterization to the extent that it leaves you feeling very frustrated. The climactic moments, however, redeem the show by suggesting that Binny has, once again, chosen her sense of self worth over any partner. Having said that, if it weren’t for its wealth of interesting characters, Binny’s story could be neatly wrapped up in about six episodes or a shorter miniseries.
The biggest strength of this show is that it boasts of character writing, their snappy and sharp dialogue, and corresponding performances which would make you go, “Hey, I’ve met someone like this too!” At some point of time, we’ve all been someone from Mannphodganj - striking deals with God, creating entertainment in our mundaneness, looking out for our friends, pursuing love with all its passion, keeping our idealism, wanting to create our own destiny, and never settling for second best. It is the relatability of Binny’s world that makes it sweeter to watch.
Music and Other Departments:
Pacing issues plague the show towards the end, but the initial episodes flow pretty quickly and keep you hooked thanks to good editing. The production quality matches the look and feel of small town UP in the way the colours and locations pop out on screen. The show has one original song that plays during the opening and closing credits which fits its rustic tone. Unfortunately, the score doesn’t always match this tone but it still keeps scenes seeming upbeat.
Did I Enjoy It?
Yes, very much. I was frustrated by the dragging plot towards the end but the first few episodes and the climax were so strong that overall, it was still a great watch.
Do I Recommend It?
Yes. If you are looking for something which spares melodrama, keeps things light-hearted and is still very rooted in its style, Mannphodganj Ki Binny is a great weekend binge!
Rating: 3.5 /5