Spoilers Ahead.

Tamasha! When this movie was announced with Imtiaz Ali as the director along with Ranbir and Deepika playing the leads, everyone went gung-ho about it. The announcement of AR Rahman as the music director only added fuel to the fire. But, the movie was met with a mixed response and it ended up getting the ‘Average’ tag commercially. What was the actual reason behind it? Let us see…

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Tamasha deals with Ved Vardhan Sahni (yet another show of magnificence from Ranbir Kapoor) and his life in three different stages, with the help of a non-linear screenplay. We run into Ved at different locations during these stages of life, a back-to-the-past excursion in Simla (Simla- Flashback, written in the same, quirky way to set the narrative up), then on a vacation in Corsica, France, as a carefree youngster and then in Delhi, and, at last, in a future trip to Tokyo. At first, we are in a drama which kind of gives the entire plot away, but we won’t be able to grasp what was said there until we are halfway into the movie. Tamasha starts in typical Imtiaz Ali fashion, and he indirectly teases us with the prospect of us visualising a non-linear screenplay right from the scene that shows us the opening credits, which goes back and forth in time. Then, we go to Simla, with the young Ved Vardhan Sahni (a cute, wonderful Yash Sehgal, whose eyes speak volumes) and his fondness for stories. He is lightened up by stories. Ved spends hours listening to the stories of an eccentric raconteur (a vibrant Piyush Mishra). This man keeps mixing up his characters. He talks about Ram and Sita one day. The next day, he’s in Troy, with Helen and Paris. When Ved argues about it, he says, “Kahaani kahaani hoti hai… Bas mazaa lo kahaani ka.” Imtiaz Ali indirectly asks us in the avatar of the storyteller: ‘Don’t think too much. Just enjoy the story in front of you.’ This is pretty much true with Tamasha as well, and maybe of Imtiaz Ali’s work in general, which are always driven by hearts and not heads.

Ved tries getting into all these stories and his imagination starts running wild. One moment, he’s in his Catholic school, watching a procession of choir boys singing ‘Joy to the World.’ The next, his mind has transformed this procession into Samyukta’s (or Sayunkta/Sanjukta’s, as mentioned by the Kahaani-wala) entourage during her swayamvar, as she searches for Prithviraj, with a varmala in hand. This kind of childhood, Ali says, is a serpent, and if we are to grow up,  become responsible adults, we need to leave this Eden,  we need to crush these temptations underfoot and bury them once for all. He also stresses that this is the distress, that, in turn turns us into mere robots. This has been shown to us right at the start, through a robot running through a treadmill. This message is revealed in its complete form in the latter stages of the movie. After the Simla flashback ends, we go on a vacation with Ved to Corsica, France. Imtiaz Ali’s characters usually tend to take long journeys, but probably for the first time, the leads are on a vacation. The yellowish tint with which the Corsica portions have been shown is certainly eye-balming, and Ravi Varman oozes class behind his lenses throughout the movie.

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When we first land in Corsica, we see Ved as yet another vacationer. He’s just physically in a different place. Then he runs into Tara  (an outstanding Deepika Padukone – yet again!) who is in a trouble, and something happens, that the director never explains and lets it to our imagination. He becomes another person, mentally in a different place, on a vacation from himself, living the way he might have imagined thus far. Ved is frequently shown in front of mirrors, connoting the split between the person he is at heart and the person he’s been forced to become by the ways of the world (someplace between dil and duniya, as the film puts it), as an automaton. He works in an unremarkable (monotonous to be precise) job in Delhi, India – he’s a product manager. An on-loop montage shows us his routine – wake up, brush teeth, eat cereal, wear tie, clean his car, stop at traffic light on way to work, never respond to strangers (a transgender pops at his car regularly), keep elevator door open for others, smile politely at colleagues, and deliver numbing PowerPoint presentations. But in Tara’s company, Ved becomes that other man – the man he is at his heart. He calls himself Don, after the famous movie of Amitabh Bachchan. Why use real names, he reasons. Then they’d discover common friends, and then they’d say that it’s a small world after all. Why not stay in this larger world, with its boundless capacity for imagination? Let’s be strangers, let’s part as strangers. Tara, though unsure at first, starts playing along and becomes Mona Darling. And they make a vow – What happens in Corsica, stays in Corsica.

Ved/Don : Aao Vada Kare Ki Hum Apne Baare Main Jo Bhi Kahenge Jooth Kahenge
Tara/Mona: Aur Jooth Ke Siva Kuch Nahi Kahenge, And What Happens In Corsica Stays In Corsica

Soon, AR Rahman’s French instrumental track ‘Parade de la Bastille’ begins to play over a colourful celebration around Ved and Tara – sorry, Don and Mona. They talk and talk a lot. They hang out with no requirement, no need, and certainly no getting-to-know-you thing. The instrumental segues wonderfully to the extremely enjoyable Matargashti, where Mohit Chauhan seems to be holidaying too. The energy is infectious and haunting. The locals join in. We are presented with a rare blend of visual, musical and directorial ecstasies. If we find ourselves at the end of a dour and a gloomy day, watching this stretch of Tamasha is enough to make us feel twice the high that we will be getting from a stiff drink.

But every good thing has to end. We harp back to reality. Don and Mona become Ved and Tara again. The vow to separate as strangers proves difficult for Tara. On her way to airport, Deepika shows us what Tara is exactly feeling, a messy mix of varied set of emotions with a lot of thought. Imtiaz Ali weaves this complex thread of emotions in the screenplay with the best of performances. We have already seen Women pining for their men in Imtiaz’s previous films, with the best example being Heer in Rockstar. But we have always just sensed it and weren’t given the chance to visualise it to the fullest. That happens in Tamasha. In his previous movies, the entire story was told from the point of view of his men. While Tamasha still focuses on Ved, the first half is entirely Tara’s. Upon her return to India, she is unable to get along with her boyfriend again (a typical Imtiaz Ali character). The lovely ‘Heer To Badi Sad’ starts playing in the background (with the dancers performing in Punjab/Haryana). Is it necessary that the song has to play around the places where Tara live? In a normal movie, it has to. In Imtiaz’s romantic universe, it is completely possible that it can happen the other way. After all, Heer is from Punjab, right? This part beautifully takes us back to what the Kahaani-wala said at the start of the movie – The story is always the same. The wonderful song plays over a timeline of 4 years, where Tara goes on about her work, while simultaneously undergoing an emotional turmoil. At last, when she comes to Delhi, she finds the same Catch-22 book that Ranbir was seen reading in Corsica. This is a wonderful metaphor, as Catch-22 explains us the mental state of Ved through the actual meaning of the phrase and it has been made ironical that the two meet in Corsica, very close to the location in the novel Catch-22. Because of this, she wills herself to Ved, and they meet each other, again.

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But she finds a completely different person in Ved. This product manager who, after meeting her many years later, smiles as if meeting someone who sat in the cubicle opposite his years ago. He even hands her his business card. He is good-natured, polite, monotonous – which, in all ways, is of stark contrast to Don. Yet, she forces herself to believe that this will work. After a while, her enthusiasm drops. He says ‘I love you too’ just like passing on an information. She becomes devastated. So, when he proposes her for marriage, she relents. She says that he is just acting as Ved, the product manager, for the sake of his family and society, and that Don is the real version of his. They break up. This hits Ved hard and he breaks down. This triggers his residual schizophrenia. He behaves indifferently which slowly costs him his career and his temperament goes haywire. But all we get to see is Ved and his struggles. What does Tara do when she’s not pining for Ved? Tamasha, as a movie, is eager to tell us both sides of this love story, but only Ved is developed as a character, with his character arc getting a complete shape. Tara works better as a romantic construct, a ‘deux ex machina’ (thanks to Baradwaj Rangan’s review that I’m able to put these words in mine) – as someone who’s been sent by the Gods to help Ved. We are unable to get to know her the way we get to know Ved. Her career is a blur, something in the tea industry. Her family is a blur, barely glimpsed in a scene.Even her boyfriend is a blur, as I’ve already mentioned, one of those blandly good-looking men Imtiaz likes to cast opposite his heroines in these edgy romances. But every time she goes chasing after Ved, we find ourselves wanting to know more about her. We’re told that she came to Corsica because her favourite comic, as a kid, was ‘Asterix in Corsica’ and that’s all about it. We never get an answer for the question of her lonely existence in Corsica. Doesn’t she have friends? What about that boyfriend? You can see Ved holidaying all by himself – but Tara? In a very funny scene, Don accidentally looks down Mona’s blouse and glimpses her “husn ki vaadiyan.” She blushes and instinctively begins to button up, but she pauses instantaneously. She smiles and takes off her shirt. We keep wanting to know the woman who blushed and paused, who is presumably the woman Mona is when back in India, confined by the bounds of our society. Deepika gives us a memorable performance, which makes sure that these questions never loom larger.

Ved is partly like Rockstar’s Heer. He doesn’t get the things he wants. He begins to droop like a plant that doesn’t get much sun anymore.  But when Tara enters his life, things begin to change, the way things changed for Jordan when he met Heer in Rockstar. In that film, being away from the woman made the man go berserk. Here, being with Tara makes Ved go bonkers. He becomes the lovelorn characters from the stories he heard as a child. The film quotations change too. He’s no longer “cool,” like the titular character from Don. He becomes melodramatic. The stories from Ved’s childhood are presented in grainy visuals, and finally we see Ved himself embalmed in one of these visuals(crying ‘Tara’, in sorrow and anguish)– he’s written his own legendary love story. With some help, of course. Like Imtiaz’s other intense romantic drams, destiny plays a part in Tamasha too. After Tara rejects Ved’s proposal, he loses the ring, but his friends find it and give him. Later, in a peevish fit, he gives it away to the transgender, but the recipient returns it as the person feels not worthy enough of it. Thus, destiny pinpoints to us that Ved is meant to be with Tara.

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Ved sees himself in the Catch-22 situation. He loses everything and when he wants answers, he goes back to the roots. ‘Kahaani-wala ki Jaanta hai na’, he says and goes to the storyteller. This forms the most beautiful part of the movie. When he asks the storyteller about “meri kahaani” , the storyteller says, “Darrta hai? Darr lag raha hai?! Apni kahani mujh se pooch raha hai! Kayaar! Kisse darta hai? Hai Kaun yaha? Tu bata kya hota hai aage… Kya hai Teri kahani… Kya hai tere dil ke andar… Bata kya hai tu?!”. This makes Ved realise what he’s been doing all these years and what he has to do to make himself satisfied. The delightful Safarnama plays over, which says ‘Shuru Tumse, Katam Tumpe… Safarnama’. This makes him muster all the courage to go tell his father that he’s been living the life of a machine and the fact that he was never good at Maths. This fact was already explained by the foot-tapping ‘Wat Wat Wat’ and there is a conversation with an auto driver (who, like other Imtiaz Ali characters, wears his heart on his sleeve).

“Andar se koi aur hi hain hum sahab, aur bahar se majboor”.

-The auto rickshaw driver, when Ved asks him about his interest in singing and his career path.

This single line is enough to explain that we are in an infinite loop of insecurity and despair. He concludes telling his story to his dad by saying, “Bachpan mujshe kehta hain mein bahut special hoon, lekin usko to maine kuchal diya”, and he says how he has crushed and buried his childhood underneath, just to satisfy the needs of his father. This can easily be related to more than half of the Indian youngsters, and this is where Imtiaz Ali struck the right chord as a writer. Then, at the end, when Ved is presented as the storyteller, has a look which has love, gratitude and eternal satisfaction, which is pointed towards Tara. The reunion of Tara and Ved take place at the Oracle, in Tokyo. Speaking of metaphors, Imtiaz takes this to a whole new level, as Oracle can be a divine place for seeking prophecy (where Don has arrived once again) or a mastermind or an advisor (Tara, in this case). Such is the beauty of Imtiaz, the writer that multiple viewings are required to understand the nuances of his writing and his intense filmmaking. The only place where he falters a bit is in explaining things. Imtiaz always has a tendency to go overboard with his explanation, and it happens in Tamasha too. We already know Ranbir’s plight and how he is acting in front of the society. This is again thrust in the song ‘Tu Koi Aur Hai’ meaning ‘You are someone else’ (Though the song was drop-dead gorgeous and hypnotic). The other part that intrigues me is the transformation of Ranbir from Don to Ved and vice versa. It works very well as a conceit, but the transformation between these polar extremes doesn’t come as a character. Yet, it has always been the emotions that drive the films in Imtiaz Ali’s romantic universe, and Tamasha offers that aplenty.

Need I say anything about AR Rahman, the genius? Well, he forms the backbone of the movie. Imtiaz always has a good eye and ear for songs and he doesn’t fail in  Tamasha too. All the songs seamlessly merge into the narrative, and we never feel the shifts from the narrative to a song or a choreographed moment or vice versa. The background score is lovely and it just soaks us into the moments delicately. The movie looks like an amalgamation of trance like transitions. Aarti Bajaj has done a terrific job in editing, for a movie that required more from her because of the non-linear screenplay, and all those transitions in a single scene at times. It is saddening that her work for this movie has been underrated. In one of those amazing amalgamation of Imtiaz Ali’s writing and Aarti Bajaj’s editing, we slip between a song the auto driver imagines he’s singing (in the stage inside his head, he’s a star), the same song as he sings it in real life, and Ved’s flashback that shows us how he was forced out from what he wanted to be and how he ended up what he is. Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone deliver knockout performances. In the Corsica portions, they’re just required to bask, to be themselves. This kind of “performance” is a combination of personal charisma, mutual chemistry and friendship, surrendering to the moment, and believing in the director’s work, and the two pull it off beautifully, as if unaware that a camera is watching them.Everything seemed breathtakingly alive about their performances. Then, Ranbir carried the entire second half on his shoulders. The last 25 to 30 minutes is a testament to Ranbir’s acting skills. These performances bring the movie alive. Then, the last scene shows Ved and Tara as they are in Corsica – just basking (again!). They have their headphones on, and they’re dancing to a song we don’t hear. That’show Imtiaz rolls on. He is always bound to make movies out of the music that comes from his head.

Having said all this, this movie is not be appreciated by everyone.

If you are an Imtiaz Ali fan or if you are a fan of Imtiaz Ali’s heroes, you will love this movie.

If you are able to connect yourself to Ved, you will be able to love this movie.

If you are able to appreciate good cinema and understand the building of character arcs, you will love this movie.

Tamasha- One hell of a spectacle!!!

 

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