Guy meets guy. In a foreign land. They get acquainted on discovering they’re from the same land, India. Both are attractive, and in their minds probably reckon they find the other attractive too, but it’s perhaps not come to the surface just yet. When the first proper ‘Hi’ happens – when Guy 2 goes up to Guy 1 (to be henceforth referred to as G1 and G2 correspondingly) to thank him for lending him his phone since his got stolen – G1 stops both of them short. He says if they follow the typical next steps, it will be the same old story: get to know each other, chat, get physical, and maybe even fall for each other… Here, in this videsi land, where no one knows them, they have the chance to be whoever they want to be. That way, they can also avoid the trappings of love and relationships. How about they just hang – hang out without getting hung up on each other? A six-night stand, if you will, of the platonic kind.
G2 is amused, but decides to play along. So, they dance at the local festival, move into the same hotel, romp through the countryside… But never cross the physical line. And then it’s time for G2 to leave. The ditch is, G2 realises only then, that he’s fallen for G1. He decides to honour the pact, but still rushes back from the car to the room, to confirm with a dazed G1 whether this is indeed it and that they really won’t meet again, and sensing his dazed answer, kisses him (the mouth variety), and leaves.
Actually, not. G2 is just not able to get G1 out of his system… even after a few years. A work meeting brings him to Delhi, where he stumbles upon the book café whose name was printed on the book G1 was reading back in foreign land. He decides to take a chance and spend evenings there. And is rewarded. G2 spots G1 in a work meeting, approaches him, G1 is dazed again, and then what they had planned to avoid back in that foreign land does happen. Dating, making out, liking each other, and eventually a proposal. However, something, or someone, is missing: the guy, the real guy, that G1 was in that foreign land. G1, says G2, is pretending to be someone else. And so G2 calls it splits.
That may sound like the script of a big Bollywood movie for at least five years from now, or a parallel cinema movie at least three years from now, but that’s actually the story of what has proved to be my best movie of the year. Tamasha. G1 being Ranbir Kapoor, G2 being Deepika Padukone, and the foreign land being Corsica, France. No, I’m not insinuating anything on the part of the script/screenplay-writer (the director, Imtiaz Ali, himself), but to me, Tamasha’s storyline could well have been a gay one. A gay guy living it up, his true self, in a space where no one knows him, and then returning home and pretending to be straight again (and thus feeling straight-jacketed again).
At its core, Tamasha is about coming out of the closet, whether that closet be a gay one or that constructed by society. So, unlike what most people have said about the movie (that it’s about following your passion; it is about that too, but that’s more the plot than the message), it’s about, simply, having the guts to be yourself.
But Imtiaz doesn’t leave it at that. Imtiaz is the bastion, if not the pioneer, of the “urban-inner-conflict-love-story” Bollywood movie, and keeps pushing even that envelope in each subsequent movie, even if it’s just changing the colours of the envelope. While most Bollywood movies would resolve that conflict in the last five minutes of the movie and have the hero-heroine embrace in the last two of those five, Imtiaz spends the entire second half delving into it. (Yes, what I outlined above was just the first half.)
Imtiaz believes the conflict of choosing to live your true life versus fitting into some template society has prepared is rocky enough (at least for the individual) and needs slow, deliberate, conscious unraveling. And there are enough clashes, agonies and tears between the protagonists in the course of this. Each time they meet after the refusal, Ranbir is beginning to get a bit closer to his core. But just like the last mile on Everest can be the most excruciating, he’s finding it extremely agonising, especially with no friends, family or Deepika to hold his hand through the process. (Kind of like the coming-out process, to go back to that gay analogy.) Plus, his anguish is also aimed at Deepika for having been the catalyst in this painful scraping-out (the closeted gay guy hates the out guy for triggering the coming out). Ranbir almost barks at Deepika quite a few times through the few occasions they meet after the split (the closeted guy thinks the out guy is oh-so-self-righteous and hates the latter for making him consider getting out of his comfort zone). So, does Ranbir finally “come out”? As they say, for that, you’ll have to watch the movie. (And now that it’s exited the theatres, wait for the DVD or for it to come on TV.)
Imtiaz’s stellar writing comes through in other departments of the movie as well. He brings in a side story of an auto-driver who Ranbir hires one night and hears him humming a song. That leads him to discover that the driver used to sing in his youthhood days but then “marriage and living took over”. This leads to the funky ‘Wat wat wat’ sing; you don’t understand the significance of this song in the promos, but in the storyline, its place and meaning dazzle.
Imtiaz’s penchant for symbolisms too bubbles over in Tamasha. Ranbir is reading, he-he, Catch 22 in Corsica. The name of the book café from which Ranbir has borrowed the book (which is written on the first inside page too) is Social. Ah, someone forced to be social, and thus being in a catch-22 situation, you go in raptures. And the best is the movie title itself. Tamasha, or Spectacle, while referring to Ranbir’s real passion for the dramatic and the theatre, also refers to how we, on following society’s path, end up becoming spectacles in our own eyes, but then again, if we follow our heart and its path, there’s the fear that we could end up becoming spectacles in society’s eyes (and society has many of them). Triumvirate symbolism.
In between, Imtiaz also pays homage to his favourites, his favourite cinematic cities. Calcutta makes a comeback (after ‘Love Aaj Kal’) and good ole Delhi (his debut ‘Socha Na Tha’, ‘LAK’, and ‘Rockstar’) and Simla (‘SNT’) are there too.
Imtiaz also repeats the casting of the year by choosing Yash Sehgal as the kid version of Ranbir. Yash, who looks exactly like Ranbir would have looked in his childhood, also played the junior Ranbir in ‘Bombay Velvet’.
But Imtiaz’s best writing in the movie is for Deepika’s character. If he spent nights fleshing out Ranbir’s character, his hair must have curled some more prising out Deepika’s. In fact, some reviewers (women, especially) had a standard comment against the movie: why couldn’t the movie be about a woman following her passion and being her true self? One, Imtiaz doesn’t have to make social-cause movies. Two, his intention with Deepika is very clear: she is a catalyst, and that can be a central/critical character too. Deepika is not just the seed, but also the soil, the water, and the sun in Ranbir’s uncocooning. She is the one who turns down his proposal… in front of all his office friends. She is the one who tells him why she did so. She is the one who insists on meeting with him after some tears have flown under the eyes. She is the one who tells him why she wanted to meet him so. And the words she uses are perfectly conceived and crafted. Not ‘I’m sorry I broke your heart.’ But ‘I’m sorry that what I said touched some complex within you, which you didn’t want emerging and you’re not being able to deal with it, and that I ended up doing that for you.’ (Phew. This is great writing.)
However, Deepika’s character goes through some unpeeling and unraveling too, but for the viewers. You understand why her acting seemed so plain in front of Ranbir’s exuberant matargashti (tomfoolery) in Corsica: Ranbir is the hidden actor who was letting his suppressed self and acting come out in France; Deepika, although while playing along with Ranbir’s game, was pretty much her usual self in France, but you get this only in the second half. Deepika’s is a standard, humdrum life (she seems to head a tea company; how exciting). She falls in love with Ranbir because he’s so much fun (compared with her afternoons of tea-tasting), but also because she sees him for who he really is, which no one else has so far. Now, how is this not a strong woman character?
Deepika plays to the character, capably. Ranbir is brilliant in his fooling-around self, the anguished self, the cool self, or any self. (He is becoming rock-solid with each movie. Now, if only the fate of his movies could that solid.) But the star of the movie, luminously, is Imtiaz. Take it away, Imtiaz. Tamasha is, clearly, quite a spectacle.
And finally, to answer the 100-crore question: Why is Deepika’s heartbreak song, ‘Heer toh badi sad hai’, sung by folk singers in rural Punjab, while she is based out of Calcutta? (In fact, as the song begins and plays out, you clearly see her landing and moving around in the eastern city.) [Here’s the promo version of the song (with Ranbir singing to the camera), but the non-Ranbir parts will tell you the song story…]
Simple, people. Since the song is happening in her head, she imagines the guy she just fell head over heels for, but doesn’t know where he lives, must be from pure, proper Punjab. Why else would he be so full of life?
I told you, this movie is great writing.