Rahul's blog: Tamasha
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23 November 2015

Chaplin said...

"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up.. But a comedy in long-shot" said Chaplin. Wonder what happens when the camera decides to peek inside someones psyche? A Tamasha born from personal niraasha maybe?

About half an hour after I walked out of the multiplex, I ran into a friend. I happened to mention that I just got back from watching Tamasha. The inevitable "oh.. So how was it? Any good?" followed. I was about to answer and then stopped myself for a second. I wasn't sure how to respond. So I gave him the truth... "I loved it."

You know, when someone narrates to you an incident that happened to them first hand or to someone they know... A very personal story... You hear it and you react to it.. You respond to it. It's either a story that touches you, interests you or one that bores you. But you don't evaluate the story and the narrator and say this story will be a superhit or a flop and give it ratings out of 5.

Imtiaz Ali has made a very personal film. I can't be sure if it's autobiographical, but it's definitely personal. And I can't tell you if it's a 'good' film or a 'bad' film. If it'll make 100 crores or fall short. If it has good business prospects in B centres or not. He hasn't made this film with all these equations in mind. It's not a 'project.' These aren't the opinions he wants from you when he asks you to come and watch Tamasha. So why force these answers down his throat?

His producers have the right to and will ask him these questions. Or maybe they won't because they funded this film fully knowing the kind of film he was making. And I sincerely hope it will make lots of money and turn profitable.

But the film is so ambitious, so audacious, so original and personal that it deserves to not be judged on these parameters at least by us.. The viewing audience. Imtiaz isn't trying to make a quick hundred bucks from your pocket. He really wants to tell you a story.

I can tell you that it spoke to me. That at different points in the film it drew different reactions from me. That sometimes it frustrated me and other times it mesmerised me. That it drew me in and engaged me.. That I was fascinated by how this very personal story sometimes stumbled and sometimes grew wings. And I walked out happy that I had invested the time to hear out Imtiaz Ali's story. It is a story I will remember well am sure.

This is not necessarily true of every film with a very personal story. Sometimes they bore you. Highway, Ali's last film, didn't draw me in for most part. It felt fabricated too often to draw me in completely. But again, it's only a personal opinion. Interestingly, I couldn't stand 'Rockstar' when I watched it in a theatre. I thought it was hogwash. And then I happened to watch it again on TV. Stayed on the channel only for a song I love. But ended up really being drawn in by the film. I loved it that time around. Most parts of Love Aaj Kal didn't work for me either. I doubt it ever will. My favourite Ali film continues to be Socha Naa Tha. One of my favourite Hindi Rom-Coms of all time. And Jab We Met was a real crowd pleaser. Almost everyone liked it. But Tamasha gave me a richer experience than any of his other films. That's my personal experience with the film. Your opinion could be drastically different. And there's a beauty in that.

Some people are born more perceptive than others. They perceive that which is unspoken, that which can only be felt not expressed. They richly perceive the world and people around them. This quality makes them more empathetic and sympathetic than the average person. It's nothing heroic. It's just who they are. And you will find that such people usually love hearing or reading stories. All kinds of them. For when they hear a story they can truly perceive the pain, the joy, the sweeping epic hidden in every story. They can almost feel it first hand. It's a much richer experience for them.

Many such people, you will find, are also good storytellers. They draw a truth from the emotions in a story, truly feel the highs and lows, and reproduce it with a passion derived from that truth for their audiences to experience. Audiences may or may not know why they enjoy it. But they will.

This is why the perceptive ones make for great artists, composers, directors, actors etc. We also call them the creative ones. Tamasha is about one such man Ved. And equally about his best audience, A woman, who sees that flame in him for all its glory. It's about the relationship between the two.

Ved is a man who is beaten down by the world around him to live a 'steady' life. He deals well with it. But this not the Ved we are introduced to first. Brief excursions from this life that become flights of fancy are enough for him to hang on to his sanity, at least on the surface. The film starts with one such excursion to Corsica in France. The director cleverly introduces us and Tara (Deepika) to this charming, crackling Ved first. He sweeps her off her feet. Blows her away with a spontaneity and gusto that will change her forever. The director keeps switching between this track and a flashback from Ved's childhood that gives us a peek into Ved's psyche and why he's so full of life.

Cut to a few years later, the director then introduces us to a Ved who is another person almost. He is not the flamboyant storyteller on a excursion. He is an assembly line product doing a very good job, seemingly, of fitting in and making life work in the real world. Transforming himself to the point that he suppresses and bottles up his perceptive, imaginative side so that he feels no frustration. To the point that he has made himself believe this is the real he. And as this track unfolds.. The director finally begins to reveal flashbacks from Ved's troubled late teens and his tortuous passage into adulthood and we get an idea why this Ved is like he is.

Tara is first ecstatic to find him again. Then she realises this is a different creature altogether. She hurts. And she hurts him. This sends his life on a tailspin. Latent monsters (?) in him surface, festering wounds are violently prodded. He must come to terms with which is a mask and which his real skin is. Will he destroy himself or redeem. What really will become the meaning of happiness for him is the rest of the story.

When people like Ved are forced to blend in and conform, forced to live a life where their faculties of perception and creativity are trashed to dormancy, it can be difficult for them to deal with. Especially because they are acutely aware of it thanks to their perceptive nature. Many live lives that are expected of them without ever stopping to ponder or question. That is their gift. Some can't. That is their curse. I too was cursed in that sense. I decided to do something about it. And here I am wandering in a maze trying to survive. But gladly this than a 'steady' life.

These people, as I already pointed out, love stories. And nothing will frustrate them more when they realise their own life is not a remarkable story. They will feel an empty pointlessness when forced to live an unremarkable but 'steady' life by social standards. Call it depression, call it existential angst. This angst has been a recurring theme is almost every Ali film. It's portrayed most beautifully in Tamasha. But Ali is clearly a man guided by light and not by darkness. As much angst ridden his films are, he always resolves it by the end. He likes seeing his characters taste personal redemption by the end. Which is what probably makes his films a bit more saleable than some other films depicting such existential angst.

The director sometimes spells out too much.. Like in his recent films. But it works in Tamasha because it is the story of a storyteller who likes spelling it out. That is his art. His gift. But mostly, the film is a poem raging with pain, hurt, escape, redemption and joy. It's so brave that Ali envisioned bringing this to screen. What is perceived deep inside, especially abstractions like existential angst can be daunting to write for the screen. Even more daunting to shoot. Because abstractions can never be articulated in a manner of easy understanding. And it's almost impossible to convey them concisely. Look at the size this very blog is bloating into!

Ranbir, Deepika and ARR are clearly three perceptive souls who really dig into this creative opportunity! Ranbir and Deepika are hypnotic on screen. This film could have really gone wrong if it didn't have these two breathing life into the bravely ambitious material that Ali is reaching for. Is Ranbir by an intergalactic mile the best star-actor Hindi cinema has today? If your answer is 'no,' do get in touch with me and we can have a marathon argument about it! This film might work or tank. But I think this is a film the two lead actors will cherish. ARR of course is THE choice when you need music to heighten a film with a soul.

What's more fascinating is what Ali chooses to show you on screen and what he chooses to omit. While the theme has been explored before, Ali finds his own searingly original voice doing so. The flow of the film is as audacious as it's inventive and imaginative. It's a segue of images that at one moment takes on stream of consciousness feel and in another sudden moment feels bitingly real! It was sometimes exhilarating to watch a creator willing to lose himself in a maze and trying to come out of it. Luckily for Ali, he has a habit of spelling it all out in the climax. I wish he hadn't. But it's what won over many in the audience who were fidgeting around impatiently till that point. It's why his films also do a certain minimum box office. Some in the audience were clearly not won over at all. But If you asked me how good the film is.. I could show you this blog... Or just say I loved it.


- Rahul Ravindran (Andala Rakshasi, Ala Ela and Tiger)

> Rahul's blog: Kumari 21f - Catalyst Kumari
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> Rahul's blog: A man from U.N.C.L.E
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> Rahul's blog: Inside Out

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