Tamasha: The debacle of a spectacle

Unusual beginning alright but then it drags…and drags…and drags; bloody hell, there’s a half hour that’s gone by of meandering giddily through narrow alleys in Simla versus narrow alleys in Corsica, skittering schizophrenically between the young lad and the rakish man he’s grown into while ze story, mon amour, she is pfft! And I’m left wondering what mischance brought me into the cinema hall this evening! I suppose too much of a good thing can be too much of a good thing; director Imtiaz Ali has been on a roll since his first movie and, with ‘Tamasha,’ he’s finally hit the mother of a speed breaker! Indeed, it would not be far off to say the film has been directed whilst Ali was sleepwalking.

Ved Vardhan Sahni (Ranbir Kapoor) meets Tara Maheshwari (Deepika Padukone) in Corsica and one bally stretched-out meeting it is too, with a song-and-dance routine through the streets (Sigh. This is where one almost wishes for a director like Anurag Kashyap, for whom music only serves as the background score against the staccato sound of AK47’s!) Ved is this dashing, debonair dude who sweeps Tara off her feet with his Dev Anand impression. Ohh, but I’m getting ahead of myself: they decide not to reveal their real names to each other and so he is Don and she is Mona Darling. Apparently the lady has lost her handbag containing her wallet, phone and passport, so our Romeo gallantly invites her to share his room till her daddy can wire her some money – which, in this instant age of technology and online transactions, is going to take “ek-do din” just so Imtiaz has time to get his lead pair to fall in love with each other. Our demure damsel too happily traipses off to a complete stranger’s room, instead of doing the sensible thing and borrowing money from him to get her own room, till pops sends her the funds.

Interspersed with flitting through Corsica are flashback scenes of the dreamy little boy Ved, of how he runs to this old storyteller many an evening and pays him some money to hear yet another tale. Anyhow. Ved and Tara have this week where “what happens in Corsica stays in Corsica” and they mutually agree never to meet again. As Fate would have it, Tara has never forgotten him and, a couple of years down the line, bumps into him again, only this time around, Ved is a serious, sincere, ordinary office-goer who lives his life strictly according to his alarm clock and his boss (Vivek Mushran,) with none of the madcap spontaneity of Corsica that so appealed to Tara. The two pick up where they left off, however, when Ved proposes with diamond ring in tow, Tara pulls back, saying she had fallen in love with some other Ved and this dreary, sedate, briefcase toting douchebag doesn’t quite tick her boxes. Bas, phir kya; Ved begins exhibiting schizophrenic qualities himself (the script’s erratic influence, perchance??) coupled with his conditioned good-boy behaviour and some unleashed anger. Towards the end, he sits his disapproving daddy (Javed Sheikh), barely-there mommy and grandmama (Sushma Seth) down and attempts to finally explain how he doesn’t want to do IT/ engineering/ management et al – what he is, is a storyteller. One almost begins to sympathise with his daddy at this point, coz how on earth is the lad gonna earn a living by telling tales?! And then the script does a predictable-by-now let-down, as the father does an abrupt volte face; he hasn’t understood his son in thirty-odd years, but just the narration of a story now has him reaching for the tissues and hugging sonny. This scene has not been fleshed out at all.

Don’t get me wrong; the basic premise of the movie is sound. How we kill the child within us, the essence that exists in each one of us and makes one person different from another, by buckling down to societal expectations and conditioning; bowing down to a system that churns out mediocre specimens in assembly line automation. Dare to have the courage of your convictions and swim against the tide, because when you give in, you become just another clone. Be you. Somehow, in the telling, this point is submerged by the interminable storytelling aspect, the emotional relationship between Ved and Tara and the blinding sunlight of Corsica!

Playing on its name, ‘Tamasha’ also tries to tell its story through different forms of folk music, be it Corsican, Punjabi or UP Bhojpuri, but the point is not well appreciated; the scenes are too lengthy and seemingly superfluous, given the way they pop up. The Imtiaz Ali of ‘Jab We Met’ or even, ‘Highway,’ is missing. His “women” have never been wilting daisies, but Ali’s Tara is shockingly bold and unconventional, overtly so. One nearly begins to feel distaste for the modern young Indian woman., if this indeed is she.

The raw emotions exhibited by the lead pair is what saves this film from mediocrity. There is a terrific co-ordination here where one picks up the lobbed cue from the other and yes, the chemistry still exists among actors who were once involved in a relationship in real life. Perhaps too much so, as there’s quite a lot of kissing going on here; wonder how Pahlaj Nihalani (presently the head of the Central Board of Film Certification) let this one slip by under his nose! There is a barely contained passion within Kapoor, a fire that rages wildly within him; it really is quite unusual for an actor of such a young age to effortlessly get into the skin of the character with nothing left of Ranbir, as he has already proven with ‘Barfi’ and ‘Bombay Velvet.’ All kudos to him. He brings out the torment of a person trapped within himself quite marvellously. Deepika is an able foil but remains on the edge between Tara/Deepika. Err, gulp. So that’s Vivek Mushran of “ilu ilu” once-upon-a-time fame. Was wondering where I’d seen him before! Why has so much print media footage been given to Pakistani actor Javed Shaikh?? He is barely there, Lahore accent forsooth! Any self-respecting, thet Punjabi from the pind could have handled this role. Sushma Seth is totally wasted, although thank heavens she looks her human self again and not the caricature of ‘Shandaar!’

The scenic locales from Corsica and the Simla of my childhood have been captivatingly captured through the lens of Ravi Varman. It is art in motion; this guy is almost as good as his almost-namesake, the 18th century artist Raja Ravi Varma. Really a shame to pit this work against the incompetent editing (Arti Bajaj) and an absolutely lacklustre, even, jarring, score by AR Rahman. Sukhwinder Singh has clearly enjoyed himself yodelling like a cat on a hot tin roof; he hit some high notes that made me glad I wasn’t drinking out of a glass! Taking a comatose Imtiaz Ali’s overall “vision” into play and considering this is a crew that has a fairly impressive body of work to its collective credit otherwise, one wonders what they had been smoking in Manali (via Simla!)

I cannot help but compare this film to Raykesh Om Mehra’s ‘Aks’ even though the two are so radically different, both in premise and treatment. ‘Aks’ also failed to arouse even a tinkle at the box office, much less set it jangling, and was slammed by critics and public alike. It was a film far ahead of its times. However, the technical brilliance, Manoj Bajpai’s superlative, flawless performance, a smouldering Raveena Tandon and the director’s unshakeable conviction in his story make ‘Aks’ eminently watchable even today. Sadly, ‘Tamasha’ is going to remain nothing but a debacle in Imtiaz Ali’s career.

This review is best summed up by the reaction from two Punjabi aunties walking out of the theatre, where one disappointedly tells the other:” Par ki kehrya si, samjh ee nahn aaya!”

*This review is written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India.

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