When Rockstar released, I wrote a 3000-word review on Imtiaz Ali’s understanding of our confused, spoilt-for-choice, head-over-heart-user generation and stories of our long-winded journeys of self-discovery and love.
Tamasha released a week after X – Past is Present, at a time when I’m not really in the mood to review anything (since I’ve had a long and exhausting journey of my own) and the fact that the film has forced me into putting down my thoughts into words should tell you a little bit about what a powerful – even if far from perfect – film Imtiaz Ali has made once again.
While Tamasha takes the path of all his previous films, as if he is celebrating his own stories for one last time (and I seriously hope this is the last time he’s making films of this template), what I found fascinating about Tamasha is that it is tells us what we are becoming trying to repress love. One step short of full-blown schizophrenia.
The symptoms have always been there.
It was prodromal in Socha Na Tha (think about the number of times Viren changes his mind about what he wants). In Jab We Met, it showed suicidal tendencies. In Love Aaj Kal, it was denial. In Rockstar, it was the angst of repression and complete alienation. In Highway, the alienation leads to a rage against the sacred cow of Indian cinema – the family and home. The next stage is obviously about losing your shit completely and having a nervous breakdown.
Which is why Ved’s psychotic split personality needed to be played up a wee bit more. It’s one of those stages in his journey that deserved a five-minute acting showcase (like DiCaprio’s crawl back home in Wolf of Wall Street or Kartik Aryan’s monologue in Pyaar Ka Punchnama – that one scene tells you what the film is about).
Ali does a bit of this when Ved freaks out his boss (but then again this is only as reminiscent of Jordan’s encounter with the obnoxious record label boss in Rockstar but Ranbir needed a lot more writing to work with here) and earlier in the film when he confronts Tara after their break-up.
I remember the audience in the hall being uncomfortably amused with Ranbir’s bursts of psychotic behaviour and yes, these are scenes that could make any director/producer/actor nervous because it’s impossible to tell what the audience would make of a mainstream movie star suddenly losing his shit in the middle of a movie that seemingly has nothing to do mental illness.
But Tamasha IS about mental health.
The mental health of a generation connected to computers and phones, a generation used to spouting coded jargon through Powerpoint presentations, a generation so lost in the drudgery of the real world that the fantastical situations of movies seem reserved for our off-days or holidays far away from reality.
Being confused for a brief period is one thing but years of confusion (and you can see this confusion play out from a few weeks in Socha Na Tha to a few years in Tamasha) can take a toll.
The finding-love-in-a-world-lost-in-a-rat-race is a pretty old-fashioned nineties narrative and manufacturing consent for your dreams from the father far more older a sub-plot. Which is why Tamasha feels like the same old story despite its interesting hyperbole of making its regular everyday working man lose his mind.
Remember how Howard Beale lost his shit and screamed in the Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
In the last 40 years, we have all become Howard Beale. We are a generation on the verge of depression, dealing with an impending breaking point and a nervous breakdown except that Imtiaz Ali’s narrative sticks to the dated robotic existence context – and NOT modern day clutter – as the bane of our lives.
But then, that’s probably also because Ali is a little older than the current generation that’s hooked to endless Twitter and Facebook updates, where Friends are people with Instagrammed display pictures and Liking is political. Imtiaz Ali, I suspect, grew up watching Cameron Crowe movies in the 90s. I would know because I am probably the biggest Crowe fan in this part of the world. I can spot the Elizabethtown hero on the brink of suicide in Jab We Met before he meets a talkative manic pixie dream girl. I can spot Elizabethtown’s Free Bird in the imagery of Rockstar’s Naadan Parindey. I can spot Jerry Maguire fired from his job when Ved walks out holding his cardboard box.
Like Crowe, Imtiaz has been making the same film over and over again too. About protagonists coping with introspective moments of epiphanies thanks to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl they fall in love with and have trouble accepting. While Crowe loves the small town America, Ali loves his mountains.
To be fair, Ali has outgrown Crowe’s attachment to the family unit. Families in Ali’s universe, especially off late, are not the balm. They are the ache.
But the inheritance of Crowe’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl type continues to haunt Imtiaz Ali’s cinema and is the reason Tamasha falters. The girl remains a type, despite a fantastic Deepika Padukone rising above the material, and taking over the entire first half of the film. But sadly, she’s reduced to saying: “You had me at Hello” in a great fake Chinese accent.
However, Imtiaz Ali is the quintessential Bollywood director who relies more on using song, dance and music than writing (off late, the writing is sounding more and more improvised).
The first chapter of Tamasha is a full-blown Bollywood musical with very little silence but we are not complaining. We are hearing Rahman, watching Ranbir and Deepika in Corsica. With lines sounding more improvisational than crafted, the Boy-meets-girl romance rides purely on charm and the chemistry of its leads.
Chapter 2 seen completely through Tara’s PoV is the film’s finest chapter. So beautifully understated and better written than the rest of the film. But Tamasha really comes into its own only in Chapter 3 – Andar ki Baat that dives deep into the Ved’s identity crisis, nervous breakdown and impending epiphany.
Chapters seem like a fun way to break down the film into parts but the film is practically over the minute we see “Don Returns” (This could have very well have been The End) on screen. Soon, the film uncharacteristically turns all out family and crowd-pleasing.
The last act is the weakest we have seen in all Imtiaz Ali films and that’s a tragedy given that this film plays out like the Bollywood ending of all his films as a celebration of all his stories. (I was half-expecting Tara’s suicide by the time Ved finds himself given all that foreshadowing of how all stories are the same and someone always dies in the end! Stories, like life, are destined towards the same ending, no matter how hard you try to fight or resist the inevitable, I imagined but this is not that dark a film.)
Tamasha is a Spot the Imtiaz Ali filmography drinking game but I’m saying that in a good way. He’s a rare kind of filmmaker who is still making the most personal of films in the mainstream format and no Indian filmmaker understands the confusing dynamics of modern day love more than him. Nobody uses the musical narrative and A. R. Rahman better than him these days. Not even Mani Ratnam.
Will I queue up to watch him do the “same old story” again? I’m not really sure.
Even if I do, I doubt I would write about it. You can just read my old reviews.