The most important facet in any movie is to set the story flowing right at the start. The beginning becomes so crucial that it sets the tone for the remaining parts of the movie and also fixes the moods of the audience. There are quite a few ways to establish a story, and, with Tamasha, Imtiaz Ali does this in a way only he can do. He unspools the entire story and strongly sets the tone of the movie within its first 15 minutes, and the main theme is completely unravelled with the help of the oh-so-wonderfully written, beautifully composed and imaginatively shot ‘Chali Kahaani…’
What Imtiaz Ali stresses here is ‘Every story is the same.’ It is the way the rhythm of the story goes, the way the story shapes up and the development of the conflict that bring the factor of uniqueness to a particular story. He starts the movie off with a Tamasha (literally and figuratively), where the initial conversation between the Robot (Ranbir Kapoor) and the joker (Deepika Padukone) give us the entire plot on a platter. An audacious move, ain’t it? More than the entire stretch, the line
“Magar kya karein dil aur duniya ke beech kahin phans gaya hai – aap hi tarah.” (He’s stuck between the heart and the world – Like you.) gives us the major talking point of the movie. Now, we know the story and all he asks us to do is to sit back and enjoy the flow of the story, which is nothing but “Iske dil ki aawaaz…” (His heart’s voice…)
We get random Mathematical equations thrown at us where the Robot’s voice becomes feared and distorted, and the director now takes us into the real Tamasha. Now that he has already revealed the story, he sets out on his next mission, which is to underline his theme and the tagline of Tamasha, which says “Why always the same story?” It starts off with Ved Vardhan Sahni standing on the culprit box, with his teacher whining about his incapabilities of not solving even the simplest of mathematical equations. The random mathematical equations in the beginning with that distorted voice slowly start making sense. Imtiaz also establishes the fact that “Stories sunaata rahata hai.” (Stories obsess him.) Then come the already beautiful stretch on paper that is propelled to unimaginable heights by AR Rahman, Ravi Varman and Aarti Bajaj, which starts off with Ved encountering the effervescent kahaaniwalah in one of his regular visits to the old man. He enumerates a chapter from Ramayana, and we we see why stories are obsessing him. We are shown the visuals from the point of view of his imagination for the story told by the old man. In his version of Ramayana, Ram and Lakshman are clad with school uniform shirts (Ram has a belt and Lakshman a tie!) and we see subject books like Civics, French, Hindi, Physics, Mathematics books along with a lot of paper wind-mills adorning the jungle. When he seeks the continuation of the story on some other day (as the kahaaniwalah charges money and is stringent on time limits), he goes on with the Helen of Troy instead of Sita in his own, amusing way. But the kid is confused with this mixing up of stories and tells him that something is wrong, for which the raconteur replies “Haan to kya takleef hai…? Problem kya hai? Kahaani kahaani hoti hai… aur vohi kahaani har jagah chalti hai, har waqt… Ayodhya mein, Unaan mein… Laila-Majnu, Romeo-Juliet, Sikandar ki chadhai, Lanka ki ladai aur tumhaari zindagi… Vohi kahaani… ek hi… To socho mat ke kahaan aur kab aur kiski… bas maza lo kahaani ka… Dil khol ke… Theek hai…?” (So what’s the problem? A story is a story – Same everywhere. In Ayodhya or in Greece. Laila-Majnu, Romeo-Juliet, Alexander’s victory, The great battle of Lanka. Your story too is like all stories. It’s always the same story. Ignore the why, where and what. Take pleasure in the story.), which starts the lovely ‘Chali Kahaani…’ off.
The song also makes sure what the story is going to deal with, which is love. We get references from Sohni Mahiwal and are suddenly shifted to Mahabharatha and then to Moses, with Imtiaz drawing the parallels out immaculately along with the help of Irshad Kamil (also the parallels among different religion.)
Ye Chenab Ka Dariya Hai
Ye Ishq Se Bharya
Wo Leharon Pe Balkhati
Mahiwal Se Milne Jaati
Wo Naam Ki Sohni Bhi Thi
Mahiwal Ki Honi Bhi Thi
Lekin Bhay Kans Ka
Tha Usko Toh Phir
Vasudeva Ne Kanha Ko Lekar
Jamuna Se Paar Langaaya
Keriya Se Toh Firon Ki
Behna Ne Phir Munh Sa Uthaya
English: Like the river Chenab,
flowing with love,
Sohni goes to Mahiwal
Her name was Sohni
And she belonged to Mahiwal
Scared of king
Vasudev crosses Jamuna river with Krishna
Pharoah’s sister picks
Moses from the river
When his teacher tells his class the story of Sanyukta and Prithviraj Chauhan, his imagination runs 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 Sanyukta’s retinue during her swayamvar, as she searches for Prithviraj, varmala in hand. In yet another encounter of Ved with the raconteur, when he corrects the old man’s Sanjukta with his Sayunkta, the kahaaniwalah quips “Yamuna hai ya Jamuna? Joseph hai ya Yusuf, Jesus ya Eesa, Moosa ya Moses? Batao…? Brahma hai ya Abraham…? Ya Ibrahim? Hindu nadi hai ya Indus, hind hai ya India?” (Yamuna or Jamuna? Joseph or Yusuf? Jesus or Isa? Moses or Musa? Tell me? Brahma or Abraham? Or Ibrahim? Hindu river or Indus? Hind or India?) This fine little stretch not only makes the kid understand the entire meaning of life, but also the audience to think that ‘Every story is the same’ and it is the way that we look at them makes them different and unique. Thus, Imtiaz outlines the fact that we can also write our own, great stories, by taking up the same, old story. Thus, the story can flow on and on and on (Chali Kahaani re…) Since this movie deals with love, Imtiaz hits on the role of the note called Love in all the different stories (Laila-Majnu, Ra-Sita, Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal, Helen of Troy.) All these stories from Ved’s childhood are presented in grainy visuals, and finally we see Ved himself embalmed in one of these visuals – he’s written his own legendary love story. It also shows Tara in a sombre mood yearning for Ved’s love, meaning that this love story has a lot of ebbs and flows throughout. He touches upon the point of separation – physically as well as menatally and the end – sweet or bitter?
Main hi mar jaaun ya mare dooriyan
Dooriyon ki chadaron pe yaadein taankiye
English: Should I end my life or end this distance?
Or fill this distance with sweet memories of you?
This wild imagination of Ved links all these epic stories together, and the result is a beautiful amalgamation of parts of all of them in a visceral reimagination. It ends up with Ved reimagining the tale of Aladdin and the genie (with the help of the kahaaniwalah, of course) and incorporating them into his own world, with an enormous smile on his face as if he’s beaten the entire world.
Wo utha virodhi parcham
Mughal-e-azam ko tha ye gham
Shehzada mohabbat karke
Izzat ka karega kachram bhasam
Troja ki thi Helen
Tha itni raksha mein Raavan
Antat bhishan yudhum krandan
Mera to Ranjhan Mahi Ranjhan Ranjhan!
English: There’s the flag of rebellion soaring high
The Emperor feared
That the PRince would fall in love
Bring Shame to his name
Helen belonged to Troy
The undefeatable Raavan
A fierce battle cry
Ranjha belongs to you
After this brilliant stretch of 15 minutes, we get to know what the story is about, what the theme is, why every story is the same and how we are looking into it. This kind of childhood, as Imtiaz establishes throughout the movie, is as poisonous a serpent, and if we are to grow up and become responsible adults to live in the contemporary world (just like how everybody else is), we need to leave this imaginary world, which has become our Eden of sorts. And this is the trauma that turns us into automatons, just like the Robot that we saw in the beginning. Thus, he registers everything in the strongest way possible and also establishing a major part of Ved’s character (without us knowing that we have already seen them, thus catching us off guard) in the process. This kind of bold filmmaking takes a lot of effort and efficacy in writing, and Imtiaz aces these parts this ease, with more than enough help from his outstanding technical team. Along with establishing his theme, he also hits hard on the fact that every religion says the same thing (albeit in a different way) and every human has the same destination, with only the paths differing for each of us. He does all this without showing the faces of the leads of the movie, which also underlines the fact that despite all the gloss, it is the story that matters at the end of the day!
PS: A big thank you to my best friend Ananya for proofreading and editing the article to bring it to its final shape!