Today’s college-going folk might not realize this, but there was a time that, if you part of a middle-class family, your education and career choice was pretty much made for you, even as you let out the first wail in the delivery room. Aptitude was something that you were supposed to develop, go out and work around, not something you used to find out what you were good at. Calculus, botany, trigonometry, and the rest of the Frankensteinian gang were de rigueur. This was pre-ordained, and good luck if you enjoyed your poetry more than geometry, or your Saki more than the chemical formula for saccharine. Is that why lots of parents today live their dreams vicariously through their children’s piano, ballet, or dance classes, pushing them to do more, “because we never got the opportunity”? But what of those buried dreams, that imaginative and colourful childhood, where you weaved your dreams as you thought fit, not looking for permission or approval? What happened to that talent that you knew you always had, but is now buried under the stifling soil of commitments, job, and mortgages? Will that talent go down with you, deep inside you, never to see the light of the day, except when it escapes as a wistful sigh or a frustrated curse?
Writer-director Imtiaz Ali looks at these difficult and complex questions in “Tamasha”, possibly his most emotionally ambitious project yet. And strangely, when he opens his movie, it doesn’t seem as if it’d chart the path it does later. For the better part of the hour, he makes “Don” (Ranbir Kapoor) and “Mona” (Deepika Padukone) carouse, act silly, and generally be goofy tourists in Corsica. (Will “Tamasha” do to Corsica’s economy what Yash Chopra did to Switzerland’s? For the answer, keep an eye out on those Facebook friends who travel to exotic locales and post those photos, while you hit “Like” in another wistful sigh.) So Don and Mona, as they introduce themselves to each other, decide they won’t get to know each other at all, and won’t even tell each other their real names, so there’s no commitment or strings attached. And when this trip ends, it’s goodbye forever. Cinematographer S. Ravi Varman takes you through a breathless and breath-taking ride of Corsica, and it’s good on the eyes for a while. Even as you wonder if UTV Motion Pictures shipped the wrong print to the cinema hall, it’s time for Mona to return to India. And just before she heads for the airport, she runs back to Don’s room for a quick, one-time, supposedly last-time, passion play. Up until here, Don is that super cool, fun-loving guy, living life for the moment, epitomizing Rahul Dev Burman’s crackling “Kal kya hoga kisko pataa, abhi zindagi ka le lo mazaa” (“Kasme Vaade”) anthem.
When Mona meets Don
The years go by, but Mona cannot get Don off of her mind. She’s, in short, in love. And then, as Lady Luck and director Imtiaz would have it, she sees him at a café in Delhi. She’s become a habitué of that place, hoping she can cash in on a clue she got about him in Corsica. Which is when Don and Mona civilly introduce themselves – he’s Ved Vardhan Sahni, product manager, she’s Tara Meshwari, architect and now working on a project in Delhi – and begin meeting regularly. For Tara, Ved is Don-unique, her memories of him casting him in a never-found-such-a-guy before, winner role. But as they come back together, she realizes he’s not who he was in Corsica. He’s just another brick in the hapless, inescapable wall of life, going to work, making presentations, getting dinged by his boss (Vivek Mushran), and a slave to his watch and routine. He, on his part, has a past. And Ali takes you back and forth in Ved’s life to make you understand his complexities and behavior.
Ved’s childhood is his dream, of listening to stories told by a storyteller (Piyush Mishra), who spins and mixes plots from Indian and Greek mythology, and Shakesperean and Old Punjab love stories for the awestruck child. In all this, the young Ved learns that finally, love is tragedy, and maybe it can’t conquer all. He’s determined then and there, that the stories he will spin and make out of his life, will be different. You learn, how, despite his protestations and inaptitude, he’s forced by his steely-determined father (Javed Sheikh) to join college, management, and finally, get a job. So, what Tara gets is the real Ved, and her dreams splinter and crash, even as he finds his true love in her. And, in a superb scene of heartbreak and bitter realization, she turns down his marriage proposal. From here on, Ved’s journey turns dark, really dark, as his childhood neuroses come to the fore, and he and you realize he has no emotional wherewithal to deal with this crushing blow.
Ranbir Kapoor as Don is so full of himself, so smirkingly confident and assured, he’s almost irritating. And when he shows you his Ved side (“as in Rig Veda”) he shows how rigged his Don was. Ranbir is absolutely brilliant in “Tamasha” – be it his and director Imtiaz’s doffing their lopsided caps to Dev Anand, or his underplayed and mechanical Ved; and he charters some very emotionally complex and dark territory later, as his character comes undone, and he does this with remarkable maturity and depth. His is a role that jumps from self-assuredness to a ship without anchor, he fights to stay afloat as life throws wave after wave of pain at him; he’s absolutely masterly here, facing his alter ego in the mirror, talking to himself. Ranbir throws you off with his abrupt switcheroo of personalities, he scares you as he plumbs to the depth of despair and then seems to lose it all. His scene outside Deepika’s apartment after she rejects him is a masterpiece. He’s hushed, and then his anger breaks out in spurts of hurt, even as he fights to rein it in by force of habit. Watch him in the scene where he goes home for love and comfort, and then when he doesn’t get it, how superbly he breaks, yet again. Watch him as he runs helplessly and hopelessly to the wizened storyteller, desperate to get a semblance of redemption in his story. And when he narrates his story to his family, he grips your emotional vein firmly and surely. Ranbir Kapoor takes a big leap of acting faith in “Tamasha”, and lands on his feet gracefully. This is his cat with nine lives after “Besharam”, “Roy”, and to some extent, “Bombay Velvet.”
Deepika Padukone is the guiding light here, for Ved’s character and for the audience. Her acting is candescent, she’s the Diwali sparkler in “Tamasha”, every scene she’s in she’s untouchable. She makes even the goofiest of scenes in Corsica believable and uncringeworthy. And as she realizes her mistake and goes back to Ved, she’s mind-blowingly heart-breaking. She makes you invest in her dreams and romance, and you want to see more of her than the director actually allows you to. Javed Sheikh as the father is a study in underplayed graciousness, while Vivek Mushran as the boss is loud, not very funny and tied down by his own…er, tie.
Which then brings us to what in “Tamasha” doesn’t work. And strangely enough, it is director Imtiaz Ali’s treatment, that stands out, much like a sore thumb in an Olympian effort of emotional gymnastics. Did he bite off more than he could chew? Did he get entangled in his own web of emotional complexities? Did he try to cover too many things and lost track of what he wanted to actually do? To me, Ali’s entire concept of using the “Tamasha” genre to use as a story-telling device was weak. What Anurag Kashyap used so effectively and fascinatingly well in “Gulaal” – Piyush Mishra’s telling of folk tales to heighten the ominous atmosphere – is Ali’s directorial flat-footedness. Where some pause and cinematic introspection would have added heft, Ali introduces song and dance – the “Heer To Badi Sad Hai” (sung by Mika Singh and Nakash) is irritating; where some silent moments would have added to your disquiet, the stage scenes and songs dilute the moments and the effect. Imtiaz Ali tries to add too many layers to his technique, distracting you from the darkness of his own effort. In short, the director waters his own plants to near death.
And the other weak link here is what Ali uses as his movie vehicle – A.R. Rahman’s music. To begin with, I have a sneaking suspicion that Rahman wasn’t present at all times during the background score recording. Else, it was the brief he followed unquestioningly. The background music is surprisingly loud and disaffecting. Where is the typical Rahman subtlety that we heard in “Swades” or even in “Jodhaa Akbar”? And in the songs list, while “Matargashti” is superbly catchy and well-orchestrated and niftily choreographed, Rahman is let down by Mohit Chauhan. The singer is too flat for what Rahman’s song throws. Chauhan lets Ranbir Kapoor down toward the end of the song, as the actor goes all Dev Anand, and Chauhan remains in his zone, not adding anything. As for the rest of the songs, Rahman shows he’s becoming a prisoner of his own template. And unfortunately, his effort to be an Andrew Lloyd Webber on Broadway shows in some music pieces as well.
Despite these flaws, “Tamasha” just might reach out and throw an emotional connect to you. If it does, it’ll throw into relief how your own dreams were pared by life’s realities. If it doesn’t, like for the gentleman sitting next to me in the cinema hall, it’ll throw into relief the magic paring of your wallet’s contents.
Watch the trailer of Tamasha here: