There was a moment in most of our lives, perhaps between ages 14 and 16, when we had a conversation with our parents about our impending careers. Almost everyone had grown up watching Sachin Tendulkar or Shah Rukh Khan rule the screens in their living rooms. Many who danced were Michael Jackson fans while those who painted idolised MF Hussain. The readers worshipped JK Rowling, and the singers were hooked on to Indian Idol. We all wanted to emulate our heroes. Instinctively, we all wanted to play or dance or sing or write. And suddenly the harsh realities of this world were unleashed upon us. "Do you know how many failed cricketers it takes to make one Sachin? We don't have the financial resources to support these crazy dreams. You should stick to a safe field like engineering or medicine, these professions will always be in demand." And thus the dreams of an entire generation were crushed inside coaching institutes.
Tamasha is a celebration, and redemption, of these crushed dreams. A boy who was fascinated by the world of storytelling, is forced to pursue engineering and lands up in the corporate world. A boy who was once cheerful and vibrant is now an institutionalised man of the corporate world. He operates fully on learnt behaviour. The extent to which his personality is damaged is preposterous. It's not just at work that he puts on this "acceptable" behaviour. It has seeped in to every task he does – brushing his teeth, eating breakfast, driving his car. All tasks are now part of this normal stable life that he was forced into. While he does have a social circle, he doesn't seem to have any close friends with whom he can openly share his frustrations. Even with them, he is pretending to be normal and socially acceptable. It's not until he meets a complete stranger in a foreign land that he thinks it's safe to portray the personality he really is.
Perhaps what makes this my favourite Ranbir Kapoor character is the magnificent performance. He is essentially playing two characters – one is a corporate employee in Gurgaon who is all about being practical and getting the job done. He does not want too many complications in his life and does not dream of anything extraordinary. The second is essentially a film buff who is at full throttle in Corsica – his mind is full of dialogues and scenes he may have seen in movies or on the stage over the years. He speaks the simplest of sentences how a character would perform them in a Bollywood entertainer. Ranbir plays both these characters with effortless precision. But what takes this performance to the next level is when he plays both these characters in a single scene. The break-up scene between Ved and Tara is lauded for this reason. Ved realises he is being extremely hurtful to Tara, yet he cannot contain the volcano exploding inside him. It's a terrific performance by the two protagonists breaking into the delightful Agar Tum Saath Ho. But for me the highlight of the film is the scene between Ved and his boss Vivek (played wonderfully by Vivek Mushran), after Ved has had an outburst in an important presentation. It starts off with Vivek counselling Ved, and Ved being sincerely apologetic about his behaviour. However, as the conversation progresses, Ved starts breaking out into his frenzied self, screaming and hurling filmy insults at his boss as he is eventually thrown out of the job by security. The ease with which Ranbir switches gears multiple times in a span of 2-3 minutes is astounding. A scene that could have very easily come off as "overacting" or "nautanki" in the hands of the wrong actor, simply makes you realise how deeply disturbed this character is.
It's not just Ved's interactions with Tara or his boss that are engaging, his scenes with his father (played by Javed Sheikh) are also very impactful. Imtiaz Ali captures the stress of an Indian father-son relationship extremely well. A relationship that was once an embodiment of love and affection, is now burdened by the weight of expectations as the boy becomes a man, and the two can barely have an interaction without friction between their ideas of life. Ali does not take sides in this dynamic. You can feel Ved's frustrations; the mere thought of speaking candidly with his father makes him uncomfortable. And yet you can't help but empathise with a father whose son simply does not exude any clarity of mind. It is perhaps the biggest fear of any Indian parent, that their child will not be financially secure without them. It's not that he is against his son being without a job, but it's him not having a concrete plan for his future that troubles him.
The dialogues by Ali are to the point, but it's the scenes with no dialogues that give us a real peak into Ved's soul. Accompanied by the mystical Tu Koi Aur Hai, you can feel Ved's pain in every beat as he looks longingly into the mirror, wait for his turn at an interview or eats in the company cafeteria. His ride with a passionate singer turned auto driver doesn't have too many dialogues for him, yet when Rajesh describes his life struggle, you can feel Ved resonating him. "Andar se kuch aur hi hai hum, aur bahar se majboor." Eventually Ved does find his calling and gets back on his feet, and along with the audience on screen, we applaud him for it. Yet it was the struggle that stayed with me when I left the theatre, not the redemption. Ranbir Kapoor has been criticised for overdoing the "coming of age" genre, but none of his other films capture just how arduous and lonely the journey to finding oneself can be like Tamasha does.
Ved's characterisation may seem extreme, as he oscillates between a regular corporate employee and a mad man breaking out into different characters in the middle of conversations, but I bet we have all seen shades of him in our colleges as well. Didn't we have a classmate who was obsessed with responding in film dialogues to the most basic questions? Or a friend who was always sketching something at the back of his notebooks in class? Or a sports enthusiast who was plotting strategy for the next football game mid-lecture? Perhaps these were all essentially Ved, just in different degrees, pushed into disciplines they weren't suited for either by their families, or simply due to lack of awareness about how they can best cultivate their interests.
On the surface, Tamasha seems like a classic Saturday night movie for a young urban couple catering to the youth – a typical Imtiaz Ali romantic comedy starring two megastars, shot in exotic foreign locations, Shimla & popular Delhi NCR hotspots like Hauz Khas village and Cyber Hub, topped off with transcendent music by AR Rahman. Yet it was Ranbir's masterful performance that made me think this is a must watch for parents of all teenagers, how deeply career counselling is needed for them and their children, and most importantly how traumatising it can be to be stuck in a place where you don't belong.