Tadap Burnishes The Sexism Of RX 100, Its Source Material, With Scale And Silly Similes, Film Companion

Director: Milan Luthria
Writers: Rajat Arora
Cast: Tara Sutaria, Kumud Mishra, Ahan Shetty, Saurabh Shukla
Cinematographer: Ragul Dharuman
Editor: Rajesh Pandey

A man and a woman — really, a boy and a girl — who are not supposed to fall in love, fall in love. Havoc ensues. It’s a story as old as stories itself. In Tadap, a millennial, twisty iteration of this age-old frame, debutante Ahan Shetty wields dialogues of thick, cloying intensity, towards two-film-old Tara Sutaria. He’s Ishana, she’s Ramisa, we are in Mussoorie.

What are these a-religious, a-gender names? Ishana, a feminine-adjacent name — names ending in vowels are often feminine, no? — is given to the hero, and Ramisa, a Muslim-adjacent name is given to a Hindu heroine. Is this what “subversion” looks like? A name transplant? In trying to think of wedding hashtags for the two, Ishana’s father, Daddy (Saurabh Shukla) — yes, that is both his name and his role — comes up with #Ramina, but quickly discards this, because of how similar it sounds to “Kamina”. Were the names reverse engineered for this joke to land? 

Ramisa is the London-returned daughter of the local politician, played by Kumud Mishra, and Daddy is the politician’s right hand man. Ishana was adopted by Daddy at a young, impressionable age, sharing a love that has both paternal and fraternal instincts. 

Tadap Burnishes The Sexism Of RX 100, Its Source Material, With Scale And Silly Similes, Film Companion

In RX 100, the Telugu source material for Tadap, the first half has a refreshing subversion. The heroine is the lusting creature, gawking at the hero’s abs, pulling him close when he’s visibly uncomfortable, initiating the first contact, the first kiss, the first unbuttoning, the first smoke. In Tadap, this feisty insistence is dampened down. When Ramisa is gawking at Ishana, he is not shirtless, so the camera, instead, gazes at his shirt in the ab-area with a brief detour of a crotch shot. Similarly, Ramisa casually offers Ishana a blunt at a rave, but we are not told that Ishana has never smoked weed before. Later, Ramisa suggests how they should kiss — she will attack the upper lip, while he should savour her lower lip — but here, too, unlike RX 100, where the hero was established as a virginal hotbod-hothead, we are not told that Ishana hasn’t kissed or fucked or loved before. Every attempt is made to ensure that Ishana does not look like a “wimp”. It is, afterall, the launchpad of a star-ish son. 

This is evident in the sweep and scale of this film — a lot more polished than the Ram Gopal Varma inspired askew and odd angles of RX 100. An important scene, when Ishana finds out that Ramina is getting married to someone else, plays out against blasts of a stone quarry. In RX 100, it is a slow motion song that establishes longing. Here, it establishes bravado. 

Ramisa, on the other hand, has her character shaved off from Indu, her source material. The bitter banter Indu has with her conservative grandmother is axed. She is less insistent, less creepy than Indu. Instead, she is given a polaroid camera, as if staged, photographed nostalgia can be a character trait. (Apparently it is) Because of these cuts, what was at its source an entitled, insolent character comes across here as watery, whatever. Tara Sutaria is barely able to hang onto the vapidity of Ramisa’s dialogues. 

Tadap Burnishes The Sexism Of RX 100, Its Source Material, With Scale And Silly Similes, Film Companion

This brings me to the conflict. What is it? Truly, what is it? I am asking, because I am not entirely sure what to make of it. RX 100 was a film that worked only — and I use the word ‘worked’ very fast and loosely here — because of the final twist. It is this twist that puts the film, which until then was treading the almost too familiar path of the heartbroken male lover, in the cultural radar. And it is this twist that I found not just mildly, but intensely worrying, even sexist. 

Spoilers ahead.

RX 100 and thus Tadap is based on true events — apparently. A portrait of Siva, the man Ishana’s character is moulded on, is shown at the end of both films. It is dedicated to him, his life, and his death. The twist is that Ramisa is a vamp — that she used Ishana for sex, while already having a steady boyfriend of 2 years back in London. We find this out in the last half-hour of the film. Until then, we assume Ramisa’s father forced her to marry this other guy, who is so irrelevant to the film his face is not even shown at his own wedding, covered by the sehra. 

There is nothing wrong with showing a woman as a vamp (in fact, during our first in-person FC Front Row event, Deepika Padukone noted that she would love to play a vamp one day, and the audience cheered in anticipation), or showing a woman leading a man on. It is the context of this story that disturbed me. 

How is it okay to make a film on “love failure” without consulting both sides of that love, and proclaim “Hero characterization is [sic] true reflection of him”? What about the heroine’s characterization?

Shrayana Bhattacharya in her book Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women And The Search For Intimacy And Independence, noted that between 2001 and 2007, the Indian National Crime Records Bureau showed that ‘love’ was a far more frequent reason for the murder of women than ‘terrorism’. It was this statistic that rang in my head when the shot of Ishana strangling Ramisa, pulling her off the ground by her neck, played in the theater. She felt entitled to his body, so he feels entitled to her life. Where’s the symmetry? 

The furrow on my forehead deepened with the dedication to Siva — Siva is, apparently, a friend of Ajay Bhupathi, the director of RX 100. Bhupathi made the film to memorialize him, and his “love failure”. The girl — Indu — doesn’t get a voice in this. Her perspective isn’t even asked, and thus isn’t shown. There is a video on YouTube “Real INDU from RX100!” that has almost 2 million views. The top comment — “Where is Indu now? In Jail or Usa?”. 

How is it okay to make a film on “love failure” without consulting both sides of that love, and proclaim “Hero characterization is [sic] true reflection of him”? What about the heroine’s characterization? 

This creates another problem. Is that why the heroine — both here and in RX 100 — come across as bad actors? The entire film, until the last half-hour they are literally ‘acting’ like they are in love. It is so forced, put on, pretentious. How then to parse bad acting from bad writing when the two are so inextricably tied? 

Ahan Shetty storms into the film with the sincerity of a debutante, the kind of sincerity that doesn’t allow for immersion into character because it is so worried about how it will look on the silver screen. The way he stands like a hero, chest broad and hands by his side, betrays an unease with what the hands should do; the way he delivers dialogues of filmic intensity shows the perfectly pronounced, imperfectly felt theatricality; even the way he gets up to hug Daddy, you can see the rehearsal in his body’s motions. In songs, you can even see him lip syncing lightly to the lines of the heroine. The problem is that a film like
Tadap needs a palpable intensity, and not schoolboy sincerity, to buy into. Without that, it just feels like two young lovers reading Rajat Arora’s dialogues, which is exactly as laboured as it sounds. 

Speaking of Arora’s dialogues, they announce themselves with his trademark verbose similes. It’s just too much — the kind that causes fatigue in the ears, the kind that makes you impatient for a sentence to end. Can anyone forget the dialogues he wrote for Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaara?  — Doodh mein jisne nimbu daala, paneer uska. (The man who puts lemon into the boiling milk, the paneer is his.) In Tadap, we get snake similes embedded in Naag Panchami references, metaphors of rubberbands and youth as an FD to be broken in old-age, whatever that means. Here are over-thought dialogues masquerading as effortless wit and the result is, understandably, baffling. 

You can watch RX 100 on Amazon Prime Video and Aha — the Telugu streaming platform. You can watch a Hindi dubbed version of RX 100 on Disney+ Hotstar. You can watch Tadap at a theater near you. 

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