Here's the good news. Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor kiss — with tongues! — and it doesn't look like any seconds of those lip locks were snipped. Also, Tamasha isn't entirely formulaic. It even has a nugget of an interesting idea nestled deep within the coils of its inane plot. However, not even Kapoor and Padukone's charm and easy chemistry can blind you to the fact that we’ve seen both this story and the characters before. Because Tamasha is basically a collection of the standard tropes of Imtiaz Ali films, with a Chetan Bhagat-style self-help lecture about following one's dreams thrown in for good measure.
Tamasha is about a stuffy, convention-swaddled man named Ved (Kapoor) who lets his quirky, ‘wild’ side out when he goes on holiday, and leaves behind the real world of family expectations, daddy issues and office. Leaving aside the sad and telling fact that the desi notion of 'wild' is breaking out in song (while wearing mustard-coloured pants that are ugly even on Kapoor's beautiful person) Ved should sound familiar. The idea of a hero who — in the words of Queen’s Freddie Mercury — wants to break free has popped up repeatedly in Ali's work. You've seen a variation of him in Jab We Met, Rockstar and even Highway , among others.
As usual, providing the yin to the hero’s mummified yang is the giggly heroine. She can only be with the hero briefly because otherwise, Ali would actually have to spend time figuring out what the devil she actually adds to the hero’s life and to the plot. Ali tried to do this in Highway (with some measure of success), but decided all that hard work wasn’t worth it for Tamasha . And so Padukone appears as the severely underwritten Tara.
Tara shows up early in Tamasha and does a lot of cardio with Ved's alter ego, Don, in Corsica. It seems the best way to make sure you don’t have sex with someone you may be attracted to is to run or walk around with them — at least that’s the tip Ali offers. Ved and Tara literally scamper the moment things get close to hot and heavy. The one time a car enters the scene, sex happens.
Back in India, Tara mopes around and then disappears without explanation for the bulk of the film's second half. Four years of Tara’s life pass by within minutes. Meanwhile, more than an hour is lavished upon Ved and his dilemmas.
It’s true that Tamasha isn’t the usual love story between a boy and a girl. It’s a love story between Ved and his multiple personalities, particularly the one who calls himself Don and the little boy self, who may well be the only kid in Shimla to not know the basic plot of the Ramayana.
You may suspect there’s something slightly wonky upstairs when you see Ved in Corsica. Why is he having conversations with mountains instead of the human being in the car with him? Why is he mimicking Dev Anand and unleashing the worst pick-up lines ever? Why are random Corsicans singing and dancing with him? Why is this erratic behaviour charming to Tara?
However, it’s when Ved hurtles towards self-discovery that his insanity becomes unmistakable. He repeatedly talks to his own mirror image. He flies into fits of rage with Tara (because how better to show your love for a woman than by yelling at her?). He also goes to a storyteller (Piyush Mishra) and asks the old man to tell him how Ved’s story will end, as though the storyteller is an astrologer.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Kapoor is an immensely talented actor and ably supported by Padukone, Tamasha would have been unwatchable. As it stands, Kapoor is able to somehow make Ved almost endearing, even while performing inane antics like dancing on a table in a boardroom and roaring in the corridors of IIM (ostensibly because he couldn’t crack a maths sum). Ali imagines Ved as a series of clichés and it’s to Kapoor’s credit that those clichés add up to a vaguely credible personality.
Padukone has to play and flesh out a character whose saving grace is that she disappears from the script. As a result, you don’t question why a smart, urbane young woman trusts a guy who's behaviour can at best be called weird. You also gloss over how Tara goes from giggly, to weepy, to clingy, to Japan without explanation. What little Padukone is given to do in the script, she does well. But after her performance in Piku , this role in Tamasha feels like a joke.
The real question at the heart of Tamasha is whether love is a performance and if it is, what happens when the curtains fall at the end of the first act. Which is the real Ved — the man prancing around in Corsica or the responsible executive in Delhi? Who is Tara — the lovesick, pony-tailed professional in India or the open-maned, beaming beauty we see when she’s holidaying? Can you have a fantasy that has nothing of reality in it? Or is unhappiness a fantasy we conjure because we’re too afraid to face up to the truth?
These are all intriguing questions and Ali makes a godawful mess in the process of trying to both raise and answer them in Tamasha . What we get isn’t a thought-provoking love story but a film that smacks of narcissism, weakened by a badly-written script and scarred by a terrible soundtrack by A.R. Rahman. Tamasha is enjoyable enough if all you're hoping for is an eyeful of Kapoor's pretty face. For those of us who expect a film with a proper plot, there's a dialogue in the film that sums it up best: " Yeh ho kya raha hai boss ?"
All images courtesy Tamasha's Facebook Page