By Pankaj Sachdeva
In Victor Fleming’s magical film The Wizard of Oz, there is a character called Tin Woodman. The Tin Woodman of Oz is made of shiny hallow silver tin, and cleverly jointed together. He rattles a little as he moves, but is able to bend his joints and get around when properly lubricated. He was once a normal man before being tragically turned into his current form of tin, having his meat body replaced by a metal one with no internal organs. He strongly craves for a heart so that he can love again. Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha opens on a stage with two characters. One of them is dressed in a silver metallic costume inspired from the Tin Woodman. This mechanical character follows a daily mundane routine of going to office, coming back from office, getting scolded from the boss, and never telling anyone anything about it. 42 seat ki bus me jo 142 log chhadte hai, unme se ek tu hi to hai. Like countless others, he is stuck somewhere between dil and duniya. The other character who introduces this Tin Woodman is dressed as a clown, and says, she is the dil ki aawaaz of this robot. Like the Tin Woodman lost his heart and wanted it back the most, this robot does have a heart but seems to have got separated from his dil ki aawaaz. Finding that dil ki aawaaz—the voice of the heart—is the theme of Tamasha.
Tamasha is essentially the story of Ved Vardhan Sahni (Ranbir Kapoor). The story begins in Corsica. He meets Tara Maheshwari (Deepika Padukone). They decide to spend some time together, without revealing their true identities as to who they are in real life. He says he is Don, while she says she is Mona Darling. They decide that they will not meet again in their life. But as it happens, Tara falls in love with Ved. Four years later, she looks for him in a cafe hoping that she will bump into him. She does. He introduces himself as Ved as a product manager in a firm. They agree to go out, but soon Tara realizes this is not the Ved she fell in love with. The point of conflict between Tara and Ved is this dual personality of Ved, where Tara is in love with the Ved whom she met in Corsica, while he thinks he was only playing a role then. She breaks off with him. She tells him that he is suffering from a complex. He angrily tells her that she is behaving as if she is a psychiatrist, and he is her patient. And, then begins his journey of self-realization. About finding who he is really is. There are periodic flashbacks of his childhood in Simla where he was fascinated by stories. He goes and listens to stories from a storyteller baba. The baba is nobody but Imtiaz himself who is giving us these stories. He imagines that he is playing one of the roles from the stories he listens. Shakespeare had said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” Life is a stage of drama, and we are all actors playing our respective parts. Or, in another words, this world is a tamasha, perhaps, that explains the film’s title is also Tamasha, and the presence of many plays and stories in the film. The film is broken down into acts—Teja Ka Sona, Ishq Vala Love, Andar Ki Baat, Don Returns—as if this is a Shakespearean play. The continuous changing looks of Ved, from clean-shaved, French beard, and unkempt, at different stages of life point to the larger Shakespearean stage theme. At many times, Ved talks to himself in the mirror. He sees many versions of himself. It is this internal journey of finding out who is his real self is that he he has to deal with, and Tara will help him in that.
At one point in the movie, Tara finds that Ved is reading Joseph Heller’s iconic novel Catch-22
. Heller’s novel is set during the World War II and follows the adventures of Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the Air Force, stationed on Pianosa, a fictionalized island in the Mediterranean between mainland Italy and Corsica. The book has themes of mental disorder and schizophrenia. The book’s title of Catch-22
refers to a paradoxical situation and is based on a bureaucratic rule focusing on the sanity of flying pilots. The novel has a very distinctive non-chronological style where events are described out of sequence so that the time line develops along with the plot. Joseph Heller himself was stationed
in Corsica at some point in his life. The more I think, the more it feels that perhaps Tamasha
is in some ways a tribute to Catch-22
. Like the novel which is set near Corsica and Heller himself being posted there, a majority of the action in Tamasha
takes place in Corsica. Like there are themes of mental disorder in the characters in Catch-22
, there are similar themes of schizophrenia in Ved in Tamasha
. Like the novel does not follow any chronological order, Tamasha
meanders back and forth between the different times, between the past and the present. Like the title of Catch-22
where something is stuck between two impossible choices, our hero is stuck somewhere dil
. This perhaps explains what Ved and Tara were doing in Corsica. Tara said her favorite comic is Asterix in Corsica
, in which Asterix and Obelix rescue a Corsican prisoner named Boneywasawarriorwayayix from a nearby Roman camp. She had always wanted to visit there. So, she comes to Corsica, while Ved had his Catch-22
reasons of coming to Corsica.
At some point in Corsica, there are shots of a Cathedral and a prayer is being sung. Immediately after that, we see Tara and Ved run towards a lake and put their faces in the crystal clear water. The water is as pure as the emotion of love, and the act of dipping their faces in the water, is like they have been baptized in this virgin love. They have immersed themselves in the holy waters of this pristine emotion. Being dressed in ‘spotless’ white, they have tasted this ‘unblemished’ love. They, then, sit in this garden under the tree, and talk about the forbidden act of making love. At an earlier point, Ved had said the time they are in is “Once upon a time“. It is like this is once upon a time, when Adam and Eve are in this garden of Eden with no one else around. Like it happened in the Bible, where Eve consumed the forbidden fruit, here, too, Tara makes the first move and breaks their pact when she is about to leave Corsica.
Imtiaz brings in some fine nuances which further underscore the motivations of the characters. When Ved and Tara go on a date, he brings flowers for her, and then takes them from her, and says, “Isko main backseat pe rakh deta hun,” as if he has actually put his persona from Corsica on the backseat. When they start going on dates often, whenever he said goodbye he glanced at his watch. It was as if he even timed his goodbyes, he has become such a slave to this daily routine that even the calendar that he has in his office has a clock. He even makes sure that his phone is silent even in the midst of a kissing session. When Tara said goodbye to him from her apartment, the window was never clear; at all times when she said goodbye, there were blinds on the window, as if something is not clear between them, and that they are not being transparent with each other. When Ved’s boss sees him without a tie, he screams at him. Of course, the tie was a metaphor that he should remain tied to the rules, and that he cannot break free. I was also intrigued by the ugly sweaters that Ved wore, not only it was a throwback to Rishi Kapoor’s infamous ugly sweaters, but also in many ways, it was quite representative of an aspect of his personality that he was trying to hide. Be it his childhood, his adolescence when he is leaving for college, or when he is in Delhi at his workplace, he is always wearing a sweater or a jacket, while Tara does not wear any, even if it is cold. The only noteworthy time he took the sweater out was when he finally narrated the story of his childhood to his father, when he finally became free.
One of the most moving scenes in the film when Ved realized that he is the master of his own story. No one is going to tell him how his story will end. The storyteller baba calls him a coward and says, “Dil me Heer liye, aur Heer khoje veerane me?” He tells him to create his own story. He, then, runs out on the streets of Simla, and meets a procession, and starts dancing like a dervish, immersed in his new found freedom. In this moment, nothing else matters except his own self. A feeling of letting go, like a pehli udaan of a bird who has learnt to fly confidently. He seems to have finally found his dil ki aawaaz, symbolized by the two clowns he meets on the way. Later, we see more clowns, his dil ki aawaaz, in his office. In the beginning moments of the film, we see clowns on the mirrors in his room, but once he grows up, there are no more clowns. This dil ki aawaaz that he seemed to have lost, has come back. It follows him everywhere, like the clowns that follow him in the moments of Safarnama.
The young Ved is hooked onto stories. “Stories sunata rehta hai,” says his teacher. He steals money from his parents to pay a fakir baba who tells him stories. The fakir tells him a range of stories, and sometimes, mixes them up. He mixes Ramayana with Helen of Troy. Brahma hai ya Ibrahim, Moses hai ya Musa, Hindu hai ya Indus, Jesus hai ya Isa, Jamuna hai ya Yamuna. It does not matter, all stories have the same elements. Bas maza lo kahani ka. In a profound moment, we see a picture hung on a tree behind the storyteller baba; the picture is of Pandit Ravi Shankar with George Harrison of the Beatles, who gave the world a fusion of Indian classical music with Western music, again highlighting the sameness of our stories, and the fusion of out cultures. If this was not enough, we even see Sanyukta doing her swayamvar in a Church.
At many a time, it feels Imtiaz is referring his own films in Tamasha. When Ved and Tara are travelling in Corsica, we see a special focus on the shots of mountains at the crossings and turns, like we saw in Highway. The daily routine of Ved reminds a lot of Main Kya Hun from Love Aaj Kal. In Jab We Met, Aditya launched a calling card Geet—Dil Ki Baat, and here we see Dil Ki Aawaaz. Like always, all his heroines are engaged or married to the wrong person, and then they realize they love someone else. Like Aditi, Geet, Meera, Heer, Veera, Tara, too, is in a relationship with someone but she breaks off that relationship after she comes back from Corsica. Like Veer and Harleen loved tea in Love Aaj Kal, which was a reference for love; here, Tara owns a tea business. Like everything in Love Aaj Kal had bridges, Tamasha, too has the signature bridge shot of Howrah bridge. Much water has flown under the bridge. Like Aditya owned and worked in a telecom firm, Ved is a product manager MCM Tech Telecom. Like Yeh Dooriyan gave a brief overview of the film in the beginning itself; here, we see Tara and Ved introduced like the characters of a mythology drama without their formal introduction. Ved says, “Yahan se kai kos door, dil aur duniya ke beech.” Somehow, it reminded me of Rumi’s quote in Rockstar. “Pata hai, yahan se bahut door, galat aur sahi ke paar, ek maidan hai, main vahaan milunga tujhe,” which means, “Away beyond all concepts of wrong-doing and right-doing, There is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Tamasha is inspired by another Rumi quote, “Don’t be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth.” This also fits with the film’s tagline. Why always the same story? Any Imtiaz Ali film is based on the journey of characters. All his films have an element of journey in this. In Tamasha, Ved takes a safarnama for finding his true self.
Imtiaz gives a lot of messages in the second half, and some of them are far too simplistic. Ved wants to tell stories, but ends up being a product manager. His real persona talks to the mountains, and drinks water from the river like an animal. Imtiaz’s message is that being stuck in a job for which you have no passion for will make you mediocre, and stop you from performing to the full potential. So, he should do something he really wants; else he will remain an average person. Ved’s father had said that if he did what he wanted in his own life, who would feed the family? In one of the most beautiful scenes in the film, Ved is having a conversation with an auto-rickshaw driver who sings Tu Meri Aashiqui Hai. The driver wanted to be a singer, but then, life happened, and he got busy with that. He says, “Andar se kuch aur hi aur bahar se majboor.” But what is Ved’s majboori? He can do what he wants? As Ved says to his father, “Main hun na apna dushman, kar hi raha hun, khud ko barbad.” His fight is with his inner self, and he needs to come out of that. Why does he need to hold himself between the two extremes? Like the auto-rickshaw at least tries to remain connected to his singing, has Ved tried to do something that gives him happiness? No one has forced him to follow this routine, thus, his biggest enemy is his own self. Not the world, not his parents, not Tara, but he himself. It is his own story, so he has the power to change its end. Ending change kar lenge.
Tamasha also briefly touches on the mental disorder and schizophrenia. Ved is a tormented soul; he never shows his true feelings. He goes into his room, and cries. He pretends that he is happy in front of his friends. When Tara breaks off with him, it actually touches a ‘raw nerve’ in him. It triggers a sort of split personality. At one side, he is trying to behave politely like a gentleman, not showing any feelings to her, but at the other side, he is filled with anger. This comes out when he is outside Tara’s house, and behaves weirdly. This behavior continues in the party that he goes to, and later with his boss. It is like he is dealing with many personalities inside him. When he narrates the story of a character called ‘Hero’ to his father, it is inspired from his own life. Hero has studied engineering, and has been a pliant person all his life. He follows a daily routine. One day, Hero moves away to a far off place, somewhere between ‘dil‘ and ‘duniya‘, and finds a partner. Ved narrates the story of ‘Hero’, and he introduces himself as ‘Don’, one of the most famous ‘villains’ of Hindi cinema. Thus, Hero has both the shades of a hero and a villain. It, then, makes sense that counterpart of Ved’s Hero is Don. It is also worth noting that the character of Don in Don had two personalities—an evil one, and a good one. This Don is not only based on Amitabh Bachchan, but also imbibes Dev Anand. Also, interesting is the presence of two names in his name—Ved Vardhan, and the way he calls Tara as Mona Darling. He says, “Toh main aapko Mona kahu ya Darling,” which I feel that points that he cannot think that Mona Darling (or Mata Hari) can be one person. At one point in Japan, a man even says, “The bipolar behavior of the metropolitan consumer,” which re-validates the themes of bipolarity in the film.
In Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par, Ishaan Awasthi suffered from dyslexia. Ishaan had his own world where mathematical problems seemed creatures from another universe to him. “Every child is special,” preached Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) to Ishaan’s father. In a similar way, Tamasha is a Taare Zameen Par for adults. Like Ishaan, Ved hates maths. Ved says that childhood is like a snake, and during childhood, every child is told that he is special. Once that child grows up, that snake is killed, and everybody becomes a rat, trying to win a rat race that no one knows it is about, only that everyone wants to win the race. They all become mediocre, and lakeer ke phakeers. That was one issue where I felt that pace dropped in the second half. It felt I have scene this story before.
The film ends in Japan. When Ved and Tara had gone on their first date, they went to a Japanese restaurant. Perhaps, there is some connection to Japan. “Companies are the latest countries, and countries hare the latest companies,” he had said. It is entirely befitting that the place where they finally meet is a tea conference, and the building’s board says Oracle. Tea, which is a symbol of love in Imtiaz’s oeuvre, and oracle—a person acting as a medium through whom prophecy is sought—is perhaps an acknowledgment to the storyteller baba who had told Ved to find his own story, and he has finally been able to do that. The oracle’s prophecy has become true.
Deepika Padukone as Tara is simply fabulous. At one point in Corsica, Ved calls her Madhubala, and says he wants her to act in his film. Deepika is indeed turning out to be Madhubala. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani pays a tribute to Madhubala in Deewani Mastani, and call it a coincidence or the writings of fate that Deepika plays Mastani and gives a glorious tribute to Madhubala. Deepika as Tara makes us forget the underwritten and the missing parts of her character. Even though it is Ranbir’s show all the way, somehow, Deepika came out as memorable for me. She made us care for her. The scene where she is sitting in the car after she says one last goodbye to Ved in Corsica, we can feel what exactly is going in her mind. The way she walks up and down the stairs twice in hesitation, in Corsica, and in Delhi. The way she confesses her love to Ved. The way she says, “Really?” when Ved compliments her. Deepika channelizes Tara’s pain beautifully. Deepika is love. She is the emotionally mature one, she understands Ved so easily when no one else did. She is the one who brings a change in him. She is the one who shows him the light in the darkness of the night, like a tara—a star. Finding life through love is a central theme in Ali’s films. But it gives me such pleasure that the film recognizes Tara’s role. Unlike in Jab We Met and Rockstar, although Geet and Heer bring a transformation in Aditya and Jordan, no one knows the story of change, but Ved in front of an entire audience thanks her, and lays down on the stage floor in ibadat of Tara. She is the one who completely deserves all the applause for his change. I wanted more of Tara in the film, especially in the second half. I wanted to know why she is alone in the parties. I wanted to know why she celebrates her birthday alone. I wanted to know what music she is listening on her headphones. And, that one hug in Agar Tum Saath Ho where she does not let go of Ved is harrowing. It will remind of a time of a devastating heartbreak, of a time of a wretched state, and of a time of a numbing hopelessness.
Ranbir Kapoor is fabulous as Ved. He plays everything to perfection, and proves yet again why he is one of the best actors of this generation. He gets into the skin of character. A lot of talk is going on that Ranbir is back, but when did he ever leave? Even in Bombay Velvet, his performance was terrific. The kid who played his childhood resembles Ranbir a lot, and was first noticed in Bombay Velvet. AR Rahman’s music and Irshad Kamil lyrics sync perfectly with the mood of the film. Safarnama and Heer Toh Badi Sad Hai are infectious. What I also liked was the use of cinematography where Ved’s character was shown in dark at many times, as if a reflection of his inner struggle.
At one scene in the film, Ved is giving a presentation and behind him is a slide showing input, output, analytics. In my real life, I do the exact same thing, yes the exact same thing. When Ved’ boss makes a statement that his work is average, but he has only been able to survive because of good behavior, for a second, that someone is talking about me. Sometimes, reality hits you out of nowhere, and a film shows the mirror of reality.
The first half of the film is gorgeous. It reminded me a lot of Before Sunset. My only issue was in the second half, the pace dropped a bit, and Tara went missing, and I missed seeing more of the love story. But there is always, always so much to see and think in an Imtiaz Ali film. I am amazed at the reactions. I have been reading a range of reactions to the movie, from certain people disliking it to loving it, with a lot many variations in between. There are people who loved the first half, and some who loved the second half. Find your own story, was the message, and it seems that the message seems to have been delivered. Each individual is having their own way of connecting with the film. It is funny how things work. Imtiaz Ali would be a happy man.
In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a character says, “Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time; as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy: its after-flavor, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned.” It is the same after-effect that an Imtiaz Ali film has. At one point in the film, Tara says, “Mujhe laga theek ho jayega kyunki hamesha theek ho jata hai. But chaar saal ho gaye abhi bhi vohi haal hai.” Poisoned may be too harsh a word, but the effects of it are ever-lasting. And, we are always ready to be intoxicated by his stories, even though they might be messy. Mess ho gaya, bahut kharab ho gaya.
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