Sunday, November 29, 2015

Movie review: Tamasha

In the years to come, I hope Imtiaz Ali's "Tamasha" will be remembered for more than just introducing legions of Bollywood fans to the sun-dappled French island of Corsica.

In Ali's sixth film as director, A-listers Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone play Indian tourists who chance upon each other in the birthplace of Napoleon. The instant conversational intimacy between the two strangers leads to a week of reckless abandon. After all, what happens in Corsica stays in Corsica. That was the plan.

On her return to India, Padukone's character is unable to shake off memories of her carefree companion. Months turn to years, and she starts spending time in a New Delhi bookshop that Kapoor's character is known to frequent. Fate brings them together, they exchange names (Ved and Tara) and start dating. Happily ever after?

But Ved is no longer the ebullient comrade of Tara's Corsican sojourn, metamorphosing into a corporate stooge doing PowerPoint presentations. Conversations falter and Tara's charming smile begins to wane. Ved is gobsmacked when Tara spurns his proposal.

This is where - as the second half begins - that director Ali reveals there's more than romantic love in the air. "Tamasha" is the story of Ved's fundamental confusion about who he should be and his journey towards self-discovery. He struggles with the conflicting demands of filial duty and his longing to be a story-teller, honed by furtive childhood visits to a yarn-spinning greybeard in Shimla.

Indeed, director Ali occasionally slips in placards to make sure the audience is aware of the spectacle unfolding on screen, beginning with the phantoms of literary lovers (Romeo and Juliet, Ram and Sita, Heer and Ranjha) that break free from young Ved's fertile imagination.

The effect isn't seamless though and "Tamasha" counts on charm, chemistry and Corsica to cast a more complete spell than they actually do. Ali's direction is uneven in parts and the film may have overreached in the second half, where there are periodic lulls between moments of dramatic brilliance. Some audiences may find the change in mood from joy to anguish unpalatable.

Even if "Tamasha" falters, "Rockstar" Kapoor is not at fault, turning in one of the most assured performances of his career. His is by far the more credible character, and the one to whom screenwriter Ali allots the best lines and scenes (Watch out for the interactions with his manager).

But doe-eyed Padukone, easily the best thing that has happened to Indian cinema this decade, holds her own in what is essentially a Ranbir Kapoor film. I just wish the audience were treated to more of Tara. All I gathered about her life is that she's some sort of globe-trotting tea taster.

Apart from the cinematography, considerable credit goes to the film's music by Oscar-winning composer A R Rahman. The unobtrusive background score helps focus the spotlight on the film's central action. Among the songs, my favourites are Matargashti - a celebration of Corsica's beauty - and Heer Toh Badi Sad Hai, which plays as Tara pines for her soul mate. The instrumental Parade De La Bastille is a haunting melody.

RATING: 3 of 5 stars

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