November 27, 2015
Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone
There is so much to love about Tamasha, yet it is such a cruel tease.
Have you ever watched a film which gives you two alluring, intriguing people in the first half and then spirits one of them away through most of the second half? That’s what happens here with Deepika Padukone’s character. It is not that she is insignificant. Quite to the contrary. Even when she disappears from the screen for large swathes of time, her presence can be felt because it is she who is largely responsible for steering Ranbir Kapoor’s character’s trajectory. Yet her physical absence is disappointing, as is the fact that her role in the film becomes completely about how she shapes him and nothing more.
Towards the end of Tamasha when the boy asks her, “Aur aap? Koi toh hongi aap? (And you? You must surely be someone?)” I wanted to weep in response because she – the character and the star – are both so luminous and dynamic when they are around, that it hurts to have discovered almost nothing about her through the film.
I know, I know, it’s his story. But her story seemed like it would have been so fascinating too!
It is a measure of how excellently written and acted the male protagonist is, that Tamasha is memorable all the same.
The film begins with a sweet little boy (Yash Sehgal) in a hill station listening to a storyteller. He is filled with questions for the old man (Piyush Mishra) as he is told that every story he hears is just a variation of every other story ever told.
As the credits end we are transported to Corsica in France where a man meets a woman. He is the little boy all grown up now, she is a complete unknown. She has just lost all her money and identification documents, he will run out of money in a couple of days by which time someone back home will be wiring cash to her. They decide to help each other with no strings attached, no introductions, no names and life details revealed, but to spend the next seven days together.
When two magnetic personalities arrive at such an agreement, what do you think will happen?
Aha, it’s not what you are thinking.
In many ways, Tamasha seems to be writer-director Imtiaz Ali’s response to those viewers and critics (I’m not among them) whose objection to his recent works has been that he is re-telling the same story again and again. So determined is he to disagree that he even takes a shot of the curving sweep of a mountainside – familiar from his earlier films – and stands it on its head with the help of cinematographer K. Ravi Varman, hugging the road and adjoining rockfaces with the lens before turning his gaze on to the sky above. In a film packed with spectacular visuals, this one still stands out.
The story itself turns the conventional romance on its head. It is not just about a boy meeting a girl, the hurdles in their path and love conquering all in the end. It is a film about writing your own story, about young people making their own choices, about following your dreams because that’s what and who you are meant to be, about not allowing others to script your life. It is also about loving a person as s/he is, while recognising who s/he might and could be.
It is a film that compels us to ponder over what else might have been in the tales we have heard of Romeo and Juliet, Ram and Sita, Heer and Ranjhaa, Soni and Mahiwal, Laila and Majnu, Aladdin and his princess, Helen and Paris.
This is a film that takes Prithviraj Chauhan’s Sanjukta to a church. A story that transports its storyteller from a swish eatery on a Mediterranean island to a dhaba in Delhi; where the stage travels from Shimla to Corsica, Kolkata, Delhi and Tokyo; and you watch as people listen to a man’s passion even when they do not quite recognise his words. A film in which a character reminds us that there is really no difference between Jamuna and Yamuna, Sanjukta and Sanyukta, Moses and Musa, Isaa and Jesus, Brahma and Ibrahim, unless we want to see one.
Tamasha does this all by melding a contemporary cinematic narrative with theatre and oral storytelling traditions. In particular, this blend gives us one of the most riveting introductory passages to a film ever seen in Bollywood. A.R. Rahman’s music is the throbbing heartbeat of Tamasha. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics make you want to listen to the songs instead of merely hearing them.
And at the centre of it all are the most electric screen couple Hindi cinema has seen since Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol first teamed up.
When Tamasha gets poignant, it breaks the heart. When it’s funny though, it is unrelentingly so, especially in the opening hour during which Ranbir and Deepika tread lightly, as lightly as that fluffy little white number she wears in a seaside town. The humour remains consistent and effective throughout, barring that awkward scene towards the end when the two leads do their take on Japanese accents. He is a great mimic (doing Dev Anand even better than Devsaab might have done), she has the world’s most beautiful smile. He does not take off his shirt and flash his biceps at us for even a moment; she wears make-up that seems non-existent and does not find a single excuse for flesh-flashing glamour.
This is not that kind of film.
In the first half, it almost feels like Deepika overshadows Ranbir, but you realise at some point that that is because we are looking at her character through his character’s eyes and so, like him, we are utterly, completely captivated. And then post-interval the tone and mood change. She is still self-contained, a free spirit, but he is a caged bird, and that is when Ranbir explodes on screen. Tamasha is possibly the best that the two stars have ever been in a film.
In fact, but for the nagging dissatisfaction caused by the marginalisation of her character, and the unevenness that that factor lends to the narrative, Tamasha is wonderful. In Jab We Met (JWM), there was no question that Kareena Kapoor’s Geet was the fulcrum of the film but the treatment of Shahid Kapoor’s Aditya was never inadequate. No doubt he was a supporting player in her story, but he was still a person unto himself. Deepika’s Tara in the second half of Tamasha, however, becomes entirely about Ranbir’s Ved in a way that leaves us thirsting for more of her. This is the film’s big, gaping writing loophole.
Still, Tamasha harks back to the raw talent that was evident in Imtiaz’s early films, the lovely Socha Na Tha and JWM in particular. Though it may never be possible to forgive him for the extreme misogyny of Cocktail (a film he wrote but did not direct), it is tempting to do so after the genuine warmth and sincerity of Tamasha.
Rating (out of five): ***
PS: Love the fact that some filmmakers are reviving the old Hindi film tradition of writing the title in Urdu too, in addition to English and Hindi.
CBFC Rating (India):
144 minutes (as per bookmyshow)
This review has also been published on firstpost:
Photograph courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamasha_(film)