By Piyush Roy
Aristotle had famously opined about there being only two kinds of stories – tragedy and comedy. Paulo Coelho added two more to argue that writers basically juggle between various combinations of four plots – a love story between two people, a love triangle, a struggle for power story and the tale of a journey or adventure. Christopher Booker in his The Seven Basic Plots (2004) had researched and revealed that everything ever written, or told on screen basically boiled down to seven plots. Bharata-muni in ancient India’s exhaustive theatre manual, the Nātyasāstra had listed 10 kinds of play, while mid-twentieth century French writer Georges Polti had acknowledged 36 dramatic situations.
Director Imtiaz Ali, on the surface of it, perhaps knows only one. Girl meets a boy, one of them is battling a past inner demon, they share a brief memorable journey or slice-of-life experience that changes them forever, they agree to part, but circumstances make them meet each other again. Loss enriches them (as human beings), love liberates them.
Tamasha, his latest release starring two of our generation’s finest actors, Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, a pair born to romance only on celluloid like Raj Kapoor-Nargis, Amitabh Bachchan-Rekha or Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol, re-fiddles with those often seen emotional tangles, albeit this time, to tug like few before. Auteur Imitiaz Ali’s (Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal) latest phase of creative ascendance (Rockstar, Highway…) continues, and how. This time, it’s flawless in a way that the signature attributes of his narratives – a love story, good characters hurting within, artistic backdrops, lyrical songs, insightful conversations, evocative background music – fall in place flawlessly, to give us one of the finest experiencing of a ‘couple drama’ in recent times.
Mid-film, when the character of Ranbir realises that the character of Deepika is not in love with the person that he is, but what he had acted out in a mutually agreed charade at their first meeting, he breaks down to scary emotion spasms of control and let go. Devastated already; Deepika’s character still tries to hold him, recover him, for her belief that if he could make a stranger feel special, there has to be something special within him. But his ego won’t let her do that. He doesn’t show his hurt, or his tears. Hesitantly she tries to nurture what she knows, only she can restore. He walks away. He wants to hurt her, deliberately, even though she had hurt him unknowingly. She wants to help; but her choice of words fail her. Her compassion, he reads as pity. It alienates him further; it devastates her further more.
What we witness is a real fight between couples intensely in love. Those are neither picture perfect, nor deep poetic moments to be lamented in leisure. Real lovers’ tiffs are not always forgiving either, and more than occasionally there also manifests that urge to give it back, just to win a goddam argument irrespective of who was right or wrong. We all nurture multiple personas within, and at least one palpable double, for the virtual world where we increasingly spend our exciting other half-lives or lies, often in complete contrast to the ordinariness of our daily realities.
Tamasha is a director’s film, right to the focussing on the toothless grin of an aged Sardarji singer extra or a mumbling mountain raconteur’s sudden rage at the hero’s lazy escape into crowded silences. Director Ali makes Ranbir and Deepika bare themselves to the sheer grotesqueness of stripped emotions as their ravaged faces become a mirror to their hidden capabilities to hurt, lust, implore or explode! Little comfort or background support is offered to the actors as they furiously hold and grapple with raw, helpless, naked turmoil. Deepika’s acting in those moments is comparable to Shabana Azmi’s drunken brawl in public with her husband’s mistress in Arth or Meena Kumari’s pleading rage against a philandering husband in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam.
Take a bow Ranbir and Deepika for yet another feather in your crowding acting caps. As regards Ali, Tamasha’s auteur experimentation with magic realism (a rarity in Indian cinema, exception Buddhadeb Dasgupta), is in the league of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children achievement in the literary space. Dig deep, and many-a-matching style articulations will surface.
The film celebrates the art of storytelling – imagination, characterisation, freedom, fantasy – and the need for story tellers in a world increasingly getting regimented, codified, conforming, ordinary, critical and intolerant. That is the auteur plea, screaming at strategic drama moments against the stifling of choices in – talents, careers, relationships, or simply just how we are to be – in a majority conforming society. Tamasha thus, also is Ali’s most rebellious film to date. Naturally, the reactions to it, have been either of outright rejection or absolute adoration. The director does not seem to be wanting to negotiate a please-all middle ground or consensus. The film’s intense blend of emotional hedonism with magical realism, foil with fantasy, hate with love, is in the league of similar world cinema triumphs like Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972), Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) or Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000).
Tamasha is not for those for whom the idea of love is about conformity, sanctity, loyalty, sacrifice, old world style wooing and pining, kasme-vaade, pyaar, wafa, etc. No, this is not about love that confirms and continues, or destroys and recreates, it is about love that liberates. The emotions and the nature of their expressions is far from ideal here. They will disturb and disconcert in their raw honesty and passion. Don’t watch Tamasha, if you haven’t lied to your love, been raised and ravaged by the lust for your love or ever stifled a lover in the passion of your love. And if you have love’s every labour lived – hurt to lust, heat to dust – one viewing is too heady to handle. You will have to return to savour this mayhem of emotional tamasha again and again, with every viewing assuring the ‘rejoice’ of a new reveal!