Jab We Met, Break Ke Baad, Ek Main Aur Ek Tu and Tamasha – what do these have in common? They have a stuck-up, somewhat depressed beta-male who is liberated from the monotony of life by a freewheeling sorted-in-life chic. They unlock the guy’s true potential. Out of these movies, 2 have Kareena Kapoor, 2 have Deepika Padukone and 2 are made by the same guy, Imtiaz Ali. It says a lot about all of them. Kareena and Deepika are the true female superstars of the multiplex era. Just like Madhuri and Sridevi (Beta, Chalbaaz) from the 90’s, they fulfill the male writer-director’s fantasy of women with reins (“If I’m going to submit myself to someone, it has to be one of these”). Imtiaz Ali’s lead male characters are highly conflicted (nothing profound, just confused) and eventually turn to the women for life-affirming comforts. With Tamasha, he continues with his adolescent pre-occupations of finding the one-true-special-one, but this time he exhibits a very strong narrative control for almost three quarters of the movie, where he shifts through places, timelines and perspectives much more organically than his other more ambitious films like Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar.
Tamasha starts with a Before Sunrise/Last Tango In Paris like fantasy, where 2 people meet outside the social boundaries, away from routine and play-act to reach their most fun-self. They seem to do it effortlessly. They promise never to meet again and to let this week or two be an experience they can cherish forever. But as we know, this is not possible, especially not in films. Richard Linklater felt the need to make Before Sunset and Midnight. And here Imtiaz Ali is working with the traditional story-telling constructs (which he constantly keeps referring to with childhood flashbacks where a boy is seeing to be shaped by the various mythological stories from around the world). The transition from the fantasy to routine is credited to the need of parting/separation from your lover in the story-telling rules (Because its too difficult for me to comprehend the homages, subversions and critique on age old story-telling mechanisms, I will stay away from it throughout this write-up. But to just let you know it plays an integral part of the screenplay).
One of the many interesting choices Imtiaz makes here is to take the perspective of the female during this transition. We see how she year after year keeps on yearning for the person she met in Corsica (The sun kissed island where they meet and play-act). The montage also shows her break-up with her boy-friend soon after she returns from Corsica (Someone please provide a psychoanalysis on this recurring aspect of Imtiaz Ali’s movies. The heroines always are hitched with someone before the hero enters the scene). After 4 years she (Tara) meets the guy – Ved and start dating. We see Ved from her perspective completely, an ordinary, decent and polite fellow who goes through a regular working class routine, with not a single funny bone in sight. The relationship soon turns into a standard restaurant jao, movie jao, ghar jao aur agle din kaam pe jao. This montage opens up multiple layers. One is the Rajnigandha (Amol Paekar and Vidya Sinha movie) scenario – you can fantasize all you want for a certain time, but reality is what gives you the security. Other one is the depressing way that a relationship plummets from exciting to routine, and as a human you start yearning for something else. But what Imtiaz ali really cares about, is the guy, who doesn’t even have a perspective till this moment. We’ve seen him as the star in Corsica and now we see him as a boring and predictable guy going through the motions quite comfortably. Along with Deepika we judge him and quite easily reject his existence, terming it as mediocre and monotonous. At this moment, the film changes gears and perspective. We are now left with Ved to observe and understand him in the aftermath.
It feels really thrilling to me while writing this story graph, because we are just put in with Ved without any safety nets of backstory or motivations. We never see or hear how Ved spent his 4 years after Corsica. Did he too suffer withdrawal symptoms? How did he make the transition? Even before that, how the hell did he end up in Corsica? How did he so effortlessly assume the star personality in Corsica? Why can’t he switch on that personality when with Tara outside Corsica? We are just left with Ved to experience the aftermath of his love rejecting his existence. We now see him talking to himself, trying to deal with the heartbreak and annihilation of his self-respect. And here the film hits a really raw nerve that shattered me. His defense mechanism kicks in and he loses it on Tara, rebuking her for rejecting him on basis of some notions and labeling him as ordinary and mediocre. Tara is guilt-stricken and begs for forgiveness, while Ved finally shuts her out completely. This happens over couple of scenes and a song. Veds helplessness and desperation to save his self-respect choked me up. It definitely is the most visceral and genuine stuff that Imtiaz Ali has every come up with. Maybe people who ‘got’ Rockstar might disagree, but for me this is the real deal.
The movie from here on is the Imtiaz Ali’s famed ‘journey towards ones true self’. And this is where the narrative control is a bit loosened and it meanders towards some not-so-interesting conclusions. In a software engineer’s lingo, what Imtiaz tries to do is RCA (root cause analysis), where he attempts to peel off layers to reach the root cause and then solve it. It might sound a bit mechanical in approach, but is done in interesting ways and in the process brings up important existential issues.
In many of our mainstream movies, we have these anonymous insignificant people who comment on some important things, so as to make our lead characters realize their own issues. It is a very lazy and convenient ploy of screenwriting, but here, a wonderful actor plays that insignificant person (a rickshawallah). And that is why this ploy works wonderfully aiding the screenplay with much needed exposition for regular viewers as well as helping the character to take the first step towards self-actualization. The most tricky question that arises for Ved (and for Tara) is, “Was I play-acting in Corsica, or am I play-acting now to adjust to the surroundings?” We put up a performance on daily basis. We behave in a certain way to maintain peace at home, differently in a social setting. Who hasn’t tried their best to enrapture a room of people with the best anecdote? Who is the real you here? Most of the people deal with different sides of themselves with ease, they switch between personalities without issues. But Ved realizes that he isn’t one of those. And the rickshawallah advise assures him that its normal to have private life completely different from the social life.
Another theme that this coming-of-age brings up is the circle of life, the monotony of the circle of life. And more importantly, in the Indian context, the circle of family sacrifices and expectations. Parents sacrifice for their children, in turn expect their children to study and settle down. They grow up, bear children and repeat the same. Who will break this circle? While I appreciate this concern brought up by Imtiaz Ali through Ved’s story, but making the father a symbol of tyranny and treating the ‘follow your passion’ motto as a revelation to attaining self-actualization, reduces the entire conflict to adolescent rebellion. The entire journey is diluted to the level of self-help books. It felt completely unworthy of the build-up and the wonderful character of Ved built up by Imtiaz and Ranbir.
In this whole Tamasha, where is Tara, you might ask. She crops up right at the end to wrap up things and give a closure to the story, which Imtiaz and Ved think is a love-story, but really it ceased to be one long back.