Tamasha (2015)

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”—As You Like It, Shakespeare.

It is with this premise that we enter the world of Tamasha, which has upon its release has become one of the most divisive movies that have the audiences split right down the middle: either you love or you hate it.

Imtiaz Ali’s directorial venture takes us down a journey of a protagonist who through a series of events embarks on a voyage of self discovery (which the director has gone on record to say  resembles in part his own personal life, and a subject that’s close to his heart and evident in most of his movies: personal freedom.)

The setting is Corsica, France (now on my bucket list of cities to visit). Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone meet by chance at a café. She’s lost her passport in a city that she’s been dreaming to visit ever since she read Asterix in Corsica. Ranbir is just holidaying there (we don’t know why exactly he’s there, but like Deepika says “there are no accidents.”) While enjoying their drinks, in a cheerful mode that banters between flirting and playful, both Ranbir and Deepika take on the role of Don and Mona Darling, making up stories about diamond heist, interpol and villains.

The deal is: we will not disclose our real names or where we’re from; we will merely enjoy our holidays in pretending to be someone else. Once the holiday is over, they go back to their respective lives: no questions asked, for what happens in Corsica, stays in Corsica!  Why should their meeting be a typical love story? Bursting into Matargashti, the lives of these two are encapsulated in a beautiful song celebrating life: live free, be free!

The passport is back and Deepika returns to India. We find out she is Tara Maheswari, an architect, from a privileged family doing well at her job. Quickly she realizes she’s developed feelings for a man she met in Corsica, of whom she knows nothing about. At times she feels silly about it, but other times feels very strongly about him.

For a project, she is sent to Delhi, where she meets Ranbir, who we now know is Ved Sahni, a product engineer. Tara is super excited to meet him, and expresses joy and delight. After all, it’s been four years since they last met in Corsica. Very soon she sees that Ved is not the person who he was in Corsica. Instead, he’s this studious and meticulous engineer, devoid of any spontaneity or free spirit.  He is boring and mechanical.

Ved proposes and Tara refuses. He’s confused, and she’s more confused. In a beautiful, intense and powerful moment between the two, Tara tries to convince Ved that the person who he is in Delhi is not really him, he’s merely playing a role that society has defined for him. He argues that the person he was in Corsica was just a drama, that’s not real life, this life in Delhi is real. What happened in Corsica was a tamasha, a drama.

This drives home a key point: who are we really in this world? Are we really developing our personalities according to our personal desires and dreams, or are we merely doing what our families and societies expect from us? How much do we let society define us, and how much of the “real” us are we putting out there?

We dive deeper in Ved’s life as a child, which is interspersed throughout the movie. In a prelude to the movie, we see Ved being enamored by a storyteller in the town he grew up in, Simla. He develops a fascination for story telling, theater and actor. His father (played by our very own Pakistani Javed Sheikh) encourages Ved to pursue a career in engineering, which Ved struggles very hard with. It may seem like a case of another movie 3 Idiots, or perhaps even Dead Poet’s Socety, but Tamasha holds its own.

A huge reason why some people didn’t like the movie was because of Ved’s moments of self discovery: is he bi-polar or psychologically unstable? Is he depressed or lost? What is he going through?

The biggest clue to his state of mind is found in the book we see him reading, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (the same book Tara reads to understand what Ved is all about!). Catch 22, for those who have not read the novel, refers to the type of an unsolvable logic puzzle, sometimes known as Double Bind (Double Bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual receives two or more conflicting messages, where one message negates the other).

Tara eventually understands Ved and where he is coming from. In a tear jerking moment, Tara apologizes to Ved, and asks him to let her help him. He knows he wants to be with her, but he also knows that means giving up his real world persona. She wants to be able to rescue him. Agar Tum Saath Ho starts playing, Ved sits down on the bench, head on the table. Tara sits down, copies him and puts her head on the table. She caresses his head, and he starts to cry—he is caught in a dilemma indeed.

Tamasha may feel like a sister movie to Imtiaz Ali’s Highway (which in my opinion is one of the best movies coming out from Bollywood), and  may have it’s weak moments. It may not be as profound as Highway or as emotionally intense as Rockstar, but Tamasha has it’s heart in the right place.

Audiences had issues with Highway (which dealt with Stockholm Syndrome) and laughed at some of the serious issues brought up in the movie (abuse). Some people will indeed have issues Tamasha too, as it may become difficult to relate to. They may laugh at Ved’s outburst, but those who know someone like Ved, will completely understand Ved’s complexed personality. I know for sure, those who are in the creative field will love this movie (as is evident from people posting on online forums how they are seeing this movie twice now!)

Imtiaz Ali also makes a point about how easily we lose inhibitions behind a mask. If given a chance to be anonymous, we can even surprise ourselves by being a completely different person. Once we come to the real world, we behave differently; we are not who we are really. Imtiaz Ali is a meticulous director; his genius lies in the details, which audiences may not grasp immediately. The twisted cobbleways and alleyways of Corsica, in which Ved and Tara spend moments of joy is in stark contrast to the twisted alleyways in Delhi, where Ved and Tara have dark moments.

What can I say about Ranbir, except that he’s a very talented actor. His burst out scene at the office is sheer genius. To see him shift from being so serious to cheeky to outright delirious then back to being serious displays his gravitas as a seasoned actor. In the first half, he successfully channelizes Dev Anand. Deepika (I am a huge fan of hers) excels in every scene as Tara and we feel her pain and helplessness, despite the fact she is playing second fiddle to Ranbir. A.R Rahman’s music is not one of his best but two songs do stand out: Matargashti and Tum Saath Ho, especially in 5.1 Dolby Surround in the cinema.

Tamasha is not about box office or making money, but rather  Tamasha is a delicate, sensitive movie, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but look beyond the surface, into the details, and we will see that Ved’s journey is one that of celebrating life, to be free and to live free.

4 out of 5

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