To call Tamasha ‘old wine in a new bottle’ might be doing the film a disservice. Not too much, but a little. In any case, the joke is not lost on Imtiaz Ali for asking us ‘Why always the same story?’ all along. We thought he was being meta and referring to the story of the film. But turns out, he meant the story of our protagonist. And we’ve seen it countless times before.
But what Imtiaz does, rather effectively, is give Ved (Ranbir) a thoroughly refreshing and layered characterization. He goes to establish from the start of the film (and even before, if you’ve heard the music) that our male lead has a fascination for stories. Listening and telling and living in one, as well. He grows up on Ramayan and Romeo & Juliet and every thing in between, narrated by a friendly old-man who charges ten rupees per 30 minutes of story session. But of course, life happens and he gets veered into a different course and dons a new character trait. He loses his real self and becomes – as the movie puts it – a mediocre everyday-man. Life goes on like this for many a years. But what happens when somebody comes along and questions his very existence? That all of his life has been a farce? This, as you guessed, forms the crux of the story.
And the somebody, you guessed it again, is Tara (Deepika). Unfortunately, Tara doesn’t get the same treatment as Ved and falls flat as a character. What also hurts is that she absolutely has no character graph through the length of the film. Some of the details are nice, like the fact that she is not some mysterious girl but has an actual high-profile job (in a tea company, no less), but we never really get to witness what goes on in her mind.
In fact, if it wasn’t for Ranbir and Deepika’s stellar performances, the movie would surely have hit the dirt. Ranbir has already established himself as an extremely capable actor, and it’s a joy to watch him ease-in and out of the many character variations that he is put through. As for Deepika, most of her portions should have been a cake-walk and her biggest strength has always been to make it seem so effortless anyway. She especially shines in the more serious scenes, and the one integral moment in the latter half where she lays Tara’s vulnerability bare. And then there’s the chemistry she shares with Ranbir which is still very palpable and lends so much to making them a likeable pair.
But there’s someone else who takes a major chunk of the limelight and that is A.R.Rahman. I think Imtiaz has a natural sense for good music which explains why all of his movies have chartbusting songs. In Tamasha, the music plays a very important role as it pushes the story forward when needed, and helps in taking a pause to contemplate when it is time to do so. I also just loved the way the songs were placed, punctuating many a beautiful moments. Just notice the way the song Tu Koi Aur Hai adds intensity and nostalgia to the closing scene, and you’ll know what I mean. It makes me marvel at how precisely Imtiaz and Rahman got down to add music to each scene because nothing feels random. The background score, too, is breezy and acoustic and basically everything that is good about Rahman. There was even an instruments-only version of Safarnama used in background that sounded magical, but I may never lay my hands on it as Indian films hardly ever release their musical scores officially.
Coming to the other technical departments, cinematography wins highly for the beautifully shot moments in Corsica and adding a rare finesse to the scenes in New Delhi. The editing work was stupendous too, flitting between snippets of past to present so seamlessly. Technically, the film is sound. Where it disappoints is the uninspiring writing. Don’t get me wrong, Imtiaz’s writing is still very cerebral (a prime example being the very first scene of the film, which takes on a bigger meaning by the movie’s climax) and has some of the wonderful quirks that we have come to associate with him. But the resolution to the movie had an air of deja-vu and comes off as very simplistic to a non-problem, in the first place.
How much you will like this movie will depend on what’s the primary reason for your visit. If you’re there for Ranbir, you get your money’s worth. If you’re there for Deepika, you get your money’s worth. And ditto for Rahman. Even otherwise, if all you wanted was to watch a good movie, you will get that too. Just don’t expect your mind to be blown away.