Deepika Padukone picking up a copy of Catch-22 in Tamasha

Spectacular: All the Symbolism in Tamasha

Catch-22.

That’s the book Ved, Ranbir Kapoor’s character, is reading when Tara, Deepika Padukone’s character, meet and do their matargashti in Corsica, in Tamasha (2015), my favourite film of that year.

The title of Joseph Heller’s cult book, which added, well, a catch-all phrase to the dictionary, aptly sums up Ved’s life (and work) when his and Tara’s paths cross again after a few years, this time though introducing each other with their real names. (In Corsica, they resolve to go with the spirit of getting away, and decide to eschew the standard path that follows after a meet-cute: no hi’s, no hook-ups.) Ved now, as Tara grasps, is caught between doing what he loves (theatre, the tamasha in the title) and what he is supposed to do according to society and dad. He chooses the latter, and only after Tara re-enters his life, does he realise he is anguished because of the decision.

But the symbolisms in Tamasha don’t end there.

The stamp of Social 110066 on the titular page of Catch-22 in TamashaThe inside titular page of the book bears the name of the place where he picked up the book from: Social 110066 (in Hindi), the Hauz Khas Social in Delhi, the number referring to the area pin-code. So, Ved is basically trying to be… social. When Tara turns down his proposal, she tells him that “a polite, well-behaved product manager” is not who she likes or is looking for, but rather “the guy who talks to mountains and drinks water from a stream directly with his mouth… like an animal”.

Also, the number 110066 appears within parentheses that look like they are book-ending him. Dev is trapped from both sides.

It goes on.

‘Tara’ is the ‘star’ that enlightens the truth to him, relights the fire within him and illuminates the path for him. ‘Ved’ has the ‘knowledge’ of his destiny inside him, but perhaps needed a star to shine its light on the path to it.

And if I have to push it, what does Tara do herself? She is the scion of a business family that is into tea import-export (the company named Darjeeling Impex in the film). Tea. The drink that invigorates. Enough for Ved to get charged up and work toward giving his audiences many a tamasha (spectacle).

And if all this isn’t enough, the melancholic Heer toh badi sad hai song. Where the performers are singing and dancing in what seems to be a Haryana village – about Heer, that is, Tara, who is actually in Calcutta / Kolkata.

 

How come? Because Heer doesn’t know who this guy she is sighing over and pining for is, his name or his place of domicile, in her mind – given his behaviour and how full of life he is – he would most probably be from a place where people are known for their loud, boisterous enthusiasm for and celebration of life. So, Delhi, Punjab or… Haryana.

And oh, Tara’s favourite book? Of course, Asterix in Corsica.

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Guru Dutt as Vijay toward the end of Pyaasa

Fellowship of the Soul

Love for all things Cal and Bengal.

Love for animals.

Rooted in the middle class.

Deep-rooted.

Introverted.

Complex.

Artistic.

Humanistic.

Holding honesty in great regard.

Not holding money in much.

Creative soul.

Creative soul with an unending thirst for perfection.

And because of all the above, an anguished creative soul.

A feeling of being ahead of one’s time.

Experiences of constantly being misunderstood.

Impassioned personal life.

Imperfect love life.

A yearning to get away from it all.

A wish to give it up all.

Is it any wonder that I feel a fellowship of the soul with… Guru Dutt?

Guru Dutt with a monkey atop his shoulderI have been on a deep discovery of Guru Dutt, both his movies and himself, for some months now. (That’s how I’ve picked up many of the above details.) And find somewhere that we are / were similar souls. From more visible aspects (like our great fondness for Calcutta and Bengal because we spent our early years there) to less tangible ones like humanism. This is the best explanation I have been able to offer to what has drawn me to GD (apart from his movies, of course). And no, this is obviously not meant to put me on the same creative plane as GD. I don’t think I could achieve in several lifetimes what GD achieved in one, that too, a relatively short one. With that feeling of fellowship though, I would have loved to see / meet GD just once in my lifetime. But that, alas, won’t happen in this lifetime either. Until then, there are his movies – filled with his beliefs, ideals, values… and soul.

 

Guru Dutt holding a drink to his face in a pose from Pyaasa

On the Rocks… of Life

Some time back, I had talked of Guru Dutt’s smoking habit, how even when posing for profile pix, for instance, he would have a ciggie in his hand. However, Guru Dutt’s drinking habit was known to be bigger. (Though it may also have been a habit of the times. There was GD’s female tragedy actor counterpart, Meena Kumari, who eventually succumbed to liver cirrhosis. His wife, Geeta, too went the same way. As a side comment, at a time when there was no concept of mental health professionals, I guess, folk in those times found the drink offered them some solace, or at least, forgetting.)

When watching Kaagaz ke Phool again recently though, I wonder if GD, through his character (the successful director, Suresh Sinha, who eventually has a great fall from grace), gives some insight into why he, and the others of those and present times, took to the drink. For there are at least two scenes, both with Waheeda Rehman’s character, Shanti (who he discovers and eventually makes an actor and star), where he talks of the “need” or vacuum that the drink fulfils.

Sometime in the first half, caught unawares by the rain and taking cover under the same tree, Suresh and Shanti strike up a conversation that starts understandably cautiously, moves to civil and soon starts being cordial. Offering her his coat, he says he is fine as he has had some brandy. Shanti seems scandalized, but ventures to inquire, “I have heard that after drinking, people engage in all sorts of vile behaviour…?” Suresh responds with comforting wryness, “Some people drink to forget the vile behaviour of others…”

A shabby-looking Guru Dutt holding a drink and speaking with Waheeda Rehman in a scene from Kaagaz ke PhoolIn the second half, Shanti, who seems more well-to-do now, comes to visit Suresh in his tenement. Suresh’s fall is all-too visible. He offers her an inverted pail to sit on, starting to cover the bottom with a quilt and the sweater she had gifted him when they had parted earlier, to make it softer for her to sit on.

To ostensibly celebrate her visit, he pours himself a drink. When, not out of a little concern, she admonishes him with “People don’t consume poison in a celebration”, his reply is deliberated, calm and poetic:

“Neither poison nor nectar…

This is alcohol…

Those who are used to living in a state of intoxication…

This is their last hope…

The intoxication of fame and success…

The intoxication of riches and love…

When all these intoxications leave you…

Then, people seek succour in this…”

Going by this, Guru Dutt was more addicted to the… think.

 

 

A composite image of the poster images from Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool

Seeking and Finding

In a movie that is about thirsting and seeking (Pyaasa), he looks for shanti (peace) and finally finds it in the company of a woman named after a flower, Gulaab (rose).

In a movie named after flowers (Kaagaz ke Phool), he finds a woman named Shanti but doesn’t eventually find peace with her as the world won’t let them be in peaceful company.

Such is Guru Dutt’s on-screen life and fate in his two best movies. The viewer though finds lots of peace, and soul, in both.