Imtiaz Ali’s film Tamasha is, at best, an attempt at a grand spectacle, and at worst, an eloquent exploration of the title’s other meaning, that is, commotion.The movie starts with the back story of a child fascinated with storytelling, beautifully shot by the talented Ravi Verman of Barfi fame, and coherently strung together by editor Aarti Bajaj. The movie is narrated not so subtly, by a theatre show of a futuristic robot and a joker.In a desperately clichéd attempt to portray the story as contrary to reality, young Ved is seen escaping his cruel father, collecting stolen pennies in a secret box, and using them to pay to listen to an old man’s (Piyush Mishra) fantastical tales. The old man keeps reiterating that all stories are essentially the same with characters that keep changing. The child, much like the protagonist in Pan’sLabyrinth, finds stories in unlikely places, and imagines characters materializing from the dark corners of his house. Unable to discern reality from fantasy, his young mind is enraptured by the possibilities of a fictional world, which contrast starkly to his life under his father watchful eye.Up until this point, Tamasha has merit enough to be a very good children’s film.
We then move to the boy-who-grew-up to have a morose likeness of a certain Dead Poets’ Society member who committed suicide, coerced by his unquestionably well-intentioned parents into a hateful education and career.This boy morphs into a debonair and rich young one, enjoying solo holidays on the French island,Corsica. (How did his parents allow him to veer off the chosen path, or take a pit stop in the rat race that they have pushed him into, We will never know?). He meets a damsel in distress and decides to help her on the premise of maintaining anonymity and remaining strangers who don’t know each other’s past or keep promises for the future.From here onwards, the movie loses all its originality and turns into yet another attempt by Imtiaz Ali to pay homage to Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Before Sunset films. Linklater drives the narrative by natural conversation, and Ali struggles to express his characters’ inner anguish with songs and music.
Although he has managed this reasonably well in Rockstar, and to an extent, in Highway, the songs in Tamasha suffer the same ambivalence as that of the characters. There are more awkward moments than moments of pure innocence due to silly pacts decided by the guy of not allowing any physical contact to develop between them. When the holiday ends abruptly, the girl goes along with the pact, but in a moment of hesitation, decides to make love to this stranger and then disappear again without even knowing his name.
The girl is then introduced as Tara. She is touched so deeply by the carefree experience at Corsica,that she ends up even breaking up with her steady, and now boring, by contrast boyfriend. Imtiaz Ali then fills her character with so much purity, that she loses interest in her own dreams, life and even refuses casual encounters with the other half of the species. Her mind and body both belong to that stranger and starts searching for him to fill up the missing spice in her life much like she searches for missing ingredients in hundreds of tea or soups that she is tasting at a restaurant that she works at.Imtiaz Ali’s female characters seem too perfect and pure and remain just as muses for confused man to find their righteous path. That’s where maybe once he should re-watch the Linklater films, ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ and see how real people, with all their errors and promiscuity, are still very interesting.
The Before Sunrise story does become Before Sunset, where Tara having tracked down the guy,whose name is Ved, finds him to be a completely changed person. In fact, this person is so different from what he used to be, that one wonders if he has suffered amnesia. The jump in the character’s arcs is too extreme to be believable and everyone along with Tara is waiting for him to jump back into the skin of the character he left behind at Corsica. He lives a clockwork life without deviations of any sort and with absolute disinterest in romantic relationships. It does manage to draw chuckles (of disbelief) from the audience the way Subodh of Dil Chahta Hai hai did. Was the director implying poignancy by depicting Ved, the master storyteller, as oblivious to his own transformation?
It would have been more believable had Ved become a seasoned liar or a person who still tries to make it as a writer alongside his 9-5 job. Alternatively, practical realities got the better of him and embittered him over time, diluting his desire to listen to or tell stories. In fact when confronted and insulted by his girlfriend, he could have just told her that there is no way he can pay his rent writing only stories. And what is so special about her to insult him like that? Does she follow her dreams to go and tell people to quit their jobs and follow their dreams. He could have even asked what is her dream and start a real conversation about dreams, reality and compromise.
Ranbir becomes a half neurotic person who feels so insulted by Tara, that he starts behaving oddly.Almost as if he is possessed and is a split personality. There is a fight club like scene where he ends up freaking out the boss who fires him. Why are corporates shown to be such living hells, almost like a cliche for a person who wants to practise art has to hate the sight of a corporate world. Ved is not talented enough to shine through his corporate world and that’s why it is hellish but for some people maybe its a dream world to succeed in. Art is not defined as whatever is devoid of commerce is art.
There is a moment in a bar (with the best song of the movie) where she is holding his hand and he is asking her to not get physical??? (first the no touching, no kissing pact and now the no getting physical while fighting pact- is it really a portray of a modern couple?) Imagine if Tara had confronted him after a session of intense love making, and both would have thrown verbal and real punches at each other in semi dressed state. That would be more personal and real.
It was a nice story about a boy who loves stories but got lost in between due to inconsistency in his character. The way he gets back to storytelling is also very off character and lazy (an autorickshaw guy who stopped singing helps Ved realize that he too had stopped telling stories and they both find an audience at a dhaba as a pathway to return to their dreams).
A person who can engage a foreign audience with a story doesn’t need to go ask a storyteller what will happen next. The scene that follows it ,where he tells a story to convince his parents was so”Mohabbatein” style and cringe worthy .Why did he still need their approval and so much positivity,(maybe he needed some money to survive) .He could have just walked out and never talked to them for a long time (in fact that’s what he liked to say in Corsica, he doesn’t like people from his past to know him at all in his future, as they didn’t know the real him at all).
The movie could have also been more real if also it ended well, maybe Ved going for a screenwriting course which concentrates on writing characters with dialogues or maybe him failing it at it and trying to act in a bollywood film. (by this point we really lose interest in Tara, who like her namesake, is just a star in the night sky to help Ved navigate his way in life)
The movie ends rom-com style, anger management aka career management style.Ranbir manages to change his career, earn a little money from working in theatre, miraculously save enough to visit Tokyo, reinstate himself in Deepika’s (name character) eyes, and stay with her happily ever after.
Interesting stories worth remembering are never similar. Emotions are, sometimes characters are too,but stories always differ, which is why the world has so many of them. Perhaps that is what the old man should have told the young Ved.