‘Tamasha’ and the Problem of living your Dreams
For a film that dares you to live your dreams (the big fat cliché of our times), a film which has a “troubled” storyteller at its centre,Tamasha never rises to inventive narrative heights. Despite the Rumi quote about unfolding your own myth, it relies heavily on beaten to death stereotypes to create a very ordinary story and interjects it with flashes of popular sagas (Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Ranjha…) to make the full package appear hip or profound. It doesn’t create any myth.
The problem with Tamasha is the problem with many self-serious films that pass off as thoughtful. They take up a worldview, “do what you like” in this case, but never explore the possibilities of that decision. We see actors suffering, a lot more than in other films and with unimaginable intensity, but it all looks fabricated in hindsight. Because the intensity of their sorrows make up for the loopholes in the narrative. Because if they didn’t suffer, the movie simply wouldn’t exist.
Ranbir Kapoor wants to be a storyteller, but is not able to live up to that dream. Why? Not because the process of making stories is painfully long and one is often left stranded in search of good ideas; not because in order to create new myths one undergoes self-doubt and questions one’s own understanding of reality; not because we humans never get satisfied with what we do and it is eventually a deep-rooted question concerning how we actually tick. Daddy dearest makes sure we never ask those questions. He forces maths on poor Ranbir ever since he was a child and it eventually destroys his soul, until a girl looks deep in his eyes and finds a trapped Shakespeare.
Let’s break the movie down:
1) A boy loves to hear stories and doesn’t like to study.
2) He frequents an aging storyteller and listens to him with rapt attention. Some of the most beautiful moments of his life.
3) He grows up and goes to Corsica. Meets a girl. Engages in wild fun…the YOLO kind.
4) Comes back and takes up a job. It requires him to act serious and robot-like.
5) The girl meets him again. There are scenes in which she tries to find out the fun-loving storyteller behind the robot. Robot gets angry. Things go sore.
6) More suffering continues on the Robot’s part. And some on her part.
7) Robot introspects and decides that he should be happier as a storyteller and quits his job. He goes to confirm his theory with the old storyteller. The old man curses him to the point of having mad fits and tells him to create his own myth. Theory confirmed! The hero is finally liberated from his neurosis. He runs back home.
8) He begins practicing his skills at home, and narrates the story of how screwed up his life could become had he remained in corporate. Dad understands. They hug and cry.
9) We see flashy lights, hopping jokers, and people giving a standing ovation. Then a large heading announces: THE STORYTELLER. Robot emerges on stage but this time he is his own self –the Corsica dude. He thanks and kisses the girl. They have kissed before in the movie.
Isn’t the story chock full of stereotypes?It is a set template which has formed big pours on its surface over the years. I think Imtiaz Ali knows that it doesn’t work anymore, so he adds references to existing stories.The most pronounced being: Ranbir is fired by his boss and we see Ravan laughing in an immediate frame! This gives an illusion that the movie has many layers. It doesn’t.But Imtiaz Ali is crafty in setting good scenes. There are some in this movie as well, like occasional lampposts in thick mist.Like the “Ranbir getting fired” scene or the brilliant mime-like sequence where Deepika tries to console the angry Ranbir, a scene so well played it looks like the part of a more convincing film.
Does Ranbir’s character realize that had he not joined corporate, had he not experienced the boredom of a cubicle, he would never have come up with the gag about him being a robot on a treadmill? Which appears like his selling point as that is the only routine he is shown performing on stage. So in order to earn that allegory he had to go through the grind. I am sure if he thinks hard, his next gag would be related to learning maths in a classroom. The life he ran away from actually gave him the stories he would tell in the life he chooses. It is sad that a movie that showed some promise had to settle for easy, forced conclusions, rather than honestly exploring the myth making abilities of its protagonist. One wonders what kind of stories the guy who calls himself don to escape his immediate reality would come up with. One is left wondering.
I am yet to see a film where the father gives a go-ahead signal from the word go, where there are no clichéd hindrances, where everyone complies, and the movie focuses purely on the protagonist and his search for “this is who I am”. It would be interesting to see how long he can hold on to what he discovers, before getting bored or having second thoughts or struggling to sustain that choice. With dad out of the equation it would be difficult to create drama. But that would make some myth. That would make Rumi really happy.