Every now and then, there comes a film that reminds us of how soullessly we live our lives, of how Sisyphean our pursuits are – mere cycles of crazy acquisition and a brief lull of euphoric excitement briefly punctuated with exhaustion and the brink of burnout, until we return to the chase all over again. Right from our childhoods, we are conditioned to imagine that life is a veritable race and we must partake in it. The Shakespearean adage of "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players" remains just a pithy quote to be memorized because pursuits like the stage are off limits in a world that slowly has begun to value materialism and mediocrity, rather than art and creativity. Tamasha (2015), Imtiaz Ali's under-appreciated gem, critiques the idea of life as a race and shows us that the Shakespearean adage can hold true for our lives as well – that we are all stories, and interesting ones at that. While the film centres mostly on the trials and tribulations of its central protagonist Ved, for me, it is Tara who is truly the 'star' of the film (pun entirely intended).
A character like Tara may often get overlooked in Deepika's brilliant filmography peopled with personalities as diverse from the fierce and feisty Veronica in Cocktail to the quietly dignified Naina Talwar of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. This is because Tara resists easy classification in a world that insists on labelling individuals. Veronica and Naina, though both so much more complex than they show themselves to be, thus, occupy diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum. Tara, on the other hand, is both of them and neither of them, which is why it becomes difficult to slot her.
Tara may come off as a manic pixie dream girl to some – the one who imbues fresh life, vigour and purpose into Ved's mundane existence. She may appear as someone who has been created merely as a pawn to further the male protagonist's journey. Yet, Tara is a complex individual who demands to be seen and heard, even if it is not entirely evident. She may have lesser screen time than Ved but we are given glimpses into her interior life, which is rich, deep and even fulfilling in some ways, even if it lacks direction at times. But this is what is most empowering about Tara – she does not mind not having the answers to all her questions. She is an eternal seeker and is willing to wait for what she wants, even if it takes time.
An example of this is made evident to us when she returns from her holiday in Corsica. A deceptively simple scene is played out before us but which reveal to us tremendously about Tara's nature. She leans in for a hug with her beau but then holds back, realising that this is not the person she is looking for – that the man she was in love with has been left behind, miles away and never, possibly, to be found again. Deepika plays it well – we see her smile freeze and then melt away as she walks purposefully to the car and shuts herself in, staring in front of her, suddenly clearly aware of how life has changed. Nothing is grandiose about this moment of realisation and yet we see the epiphany strike her. She is uncompromising and we see Tara break up with this beau eventually, realising that she can neither cheat herself nor him and settle for something lesser than what she truly desires.
But perhaps what is truly brilliant is that this extends to her own relationship with Ved, when she meets him four years later in Delhi. When she realises that he is not the person she had met in Corsica, she turns him down. She shows him a mirror to his life, emphasising that there hides an artiste within – that the role he was playing was, in fact, him. And yet, this scene reveals to us more about her than about Ved, if we were to notice carefully for here we realise, that perhaps the true artiste is Tara and not Ved. An artiste is a person who has a heightened self awareness and compassion, both of which Tara displays. Her innate empathy allows her to analyse the complexities of love – "When I came back from Corsica, I felt you were with me. I didn't know your name nor did I ever hope to meet you again and yet you were with me!" This is also evident in the scene when she finally meets Ved after four years. She articulates her feelings and yet she is someone entirely like us – she is shy, vulnerable, awkward, suppressing her excitement, pretending to act cool and confident in front of a person she knows she is clearly in love with. But it is in the scene where Tara rejects Ved that Deepika shows us how performances can be mature – she gives Tara simultaneous shades of calm restraint as well as confusion and regret, bead-like tears forming silently in her eyes as she breaks the truth to Ved. It is this inherent honesty in Tara coupled with her self awareness and compassion that makes her a much more complex character than many other female characters we have seen. She is clear about what she wants but she also wants to apologise to Ved for hurting him. Her own remorse and pain at having wounded someone she loves is portrayed in a heart wrenching manner by Deepika – evidenced by the quiet pleading in Tara's voice and the red eyes swollen from crying.
One may support or disagree with Tara's decision to apologise to Ved, but what one cannot deny is that Tara eventually walks away from the situation in quiet dignity. When Ved's anger and disinterest is evident, we never see her pursue him again, until he himself returns to her. Tara, thus, is not afraid of being alone. In fact, the film shows us that she, on the contrary, quite enjoys her solitude – walking around the streets, looking into shop windows, attending a cruise and even refusing company with a smile. She enjoys reading books and is even a fan of comics – going as far as to take a solo holiday to Corsica because of her love for Asterix comics. Furthermore, her love for words allows her to connect with Ved even when he is not physically present with her, as she begins reading Catch 22 by Joseph Heller which she had seen Ved carry around with him, in Corsica.
Yet, this does not make her highbrow and serious or even remotely pretentious. She is a person who enjoys having fun – she dances unabashedly and without embarrassment to music that she likes, letting her hair down quite literally, and eats cake on a terrace all alone but with a big smile on her face. This sense of fun bursts forth even more when she is around Ved with whom she can make up stories, recite film dialogues, have adventures with and goof around.
It is this quality of being an everywoman that makes Tara so relatable. She is one of us or may we say, she is us. Like her, we too wish for imaginative adventures and a companion with whom we can share those experiences with. Deepika infuses Tara with simultaneous warmth, a free spirit and vulnerability. None of these traits explicitly define her but they all coalesce to form together a person we all know or are, ourselves.
Tamasha may be the story of Ved's self-discovery and growth as an artiste but to me, it is Tara, with her fearlessness, love for adventure, copious imagination, compassion and her unapologetic honesty and Deepika's portrayal of her that make her the true star of this film.