Tamasha – A Review

Imtiaz Ali directs Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone in Tamasha, in a love story that promises to be unlike other love stories. Bold aspirations indeed, seeing how Imtiaz has directed Ranbir in the angst filled Rockstar, Ranbir has played the rebel with a cause, the one who goes against the grain, Also Deepika has played the counterbalance to Ranbir in a fair few times. But therein lies the magic. You take ingredients that have worked on some level or the other and you refine them over the course of time and what you get is a concoctions that has the sparks of magic flying through it.

 

To dissect Tamasha into its four acts is simple but look a little deeper and you can see what each of those acts represent. Human life is divided into 4 stages or Ashrams, Bramhacharaya Ashram, Grihasta Ashram, Vanprasta Ashram and Sanyasa Ashram. Each of the Ashrams represent a central pursuit or struggle.

Teja ka Sona is Ranbir living out his Bramhacharaya Ashram – we meet the young Ranbir who admittedly is rubbish at maths but loves spending his time listening to stories from an old man who sits under a tree in Shimla. We see him grow up and meet Deepika Padukone in Corsica where they decide to not exchange identities and instead live out their days together feigning different Bollywood stereotypes while slowly falling for each other. They agree that what happens in Corsica stays in Corsica. Here Imtiaz also takes us on a Richard Linklater style Before Sunrise journey where two strangers meet but where Ethan Hawke and Judy Delpy had the power of words here a lot more is said in the moments where not a word is spoken.

A few years pass and we enter Grihasta Ashram. In Ishq Wala Love we meet a domesticated Ranbir aka Ved. Deepika and Ved meet and go through the motions of falling in love but something is missing –And in one fell swoop Imtiaz skips Before Sunset and takes us straight into Before Midnight territory where the illusion of love comes crashing down.

Andar Ki Baat is Ranbir’s Vanprastha Ashram. As he slowly self-destructs first by displaying schizophrenic behaviour in business meetings and then an outright bipolar behaviour as he finally breaks the chains that are binding him.

With Don Returns Ranbir enters Sanyas Ashram with divine realisation upon him he finds his driving force and realises his true potential.

 

Imtiaz Ali is a master of parent child conflict and he has played on this from several angles starting with Jab We Met to Rockstar and now again with Tamasha. He treads a fine line of becoming too preachy and manages to strike a balance between the pent up angst that Ranbir feels as a child, as teenager and then as a young man and the reconciliation that finally happens when he finally opens up to his father. The opening sequence featuring a Tin-man Ranbir is a masterstroke. What may appear as jarring and out of place and narratively disjointed is reminiscent of the iconic Apple ad of 1984. There is a line towards the end of the movie which is dropped in very casually “the bipolar behaviour of the modern consumer” this is how you need to view the movie – the bipolar behaviour where you internalize your true desires and externalize what is socially expected and accepted. There is a constant struggle that every individual goes through and while it is heightened in case of some individuals like in the case of Ranbir here, I am sure everyone can find something to relate to.

Deepika Padukone just keeps getting better with every movie. Here she is brilliant in more of a supporting role to Ranbir, her rambling school girl moment when she runs into Ranbir the second time is so perfect that you feel her exhilaration and embarrassment at the same time. Ranbir Kapoor is perfectly cast as Ved, his restraint when he vents his frustration. His polite and proper Ved is just as meticulous then when he unravels and spirals out you see the dual personalities coming out and you see feel his struggle as the two Veds try to overpower one another. Seeing this side of Ranbir makes me yearn for him to an outright dark role he certainly has the chops for it. Like American Psycho or something on similar lines it would be Fan-freaking-tastic.

A R Rehman’s last collaboration with Ali was pure cinematic magic with Rockstar, here the songs are not that memorable nor easily hummable except perhaps Mattargashti and Heer is Sad but they are more lyrical and aid the progress of the story. S Ravi Varman’s work behind the camera isn’t as quirky and enticing as Barfi! But he brings a dark energy to when Ranbir is going through dark times, there is a lightness when he shoots the sequences in Corsica and then the scenes which are a parallel narrative with the Rickshaw driver who sees himself as a singer, the theatre scenes they have a Gasper Noe’s Enter the Void like psychedelic energy.

I really fail to see why this movie is getting mixed review or even negative ones. This for me rights the narrative wrongs of Rockstar where the female lead was poorly written. This is brilliantly acted and meticulously directed, in times of remakes and superstar vehicles where nothing other than the names on the playbill matter this is a movie that stands strong on its brave approach to storytelling.

The Hundred Foot journey – A Review

Lasse Hallstrom directs Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal in The hundred foot journey based on a story adapted by Steven Knight from Richard C. Morais’ book by the same name. Many have described this as slumdog millionaire meets Ratatouille as some sort of a championing of the movie. While I agree with the slumdog bit I do completely disagree with the Ratatouille which was in my opinion a more earnest and honest movie and perhaps the best Pixar have ever managed.

The story starts with Hassan at the immigration counter answering the questions asked by the officer that also works as a backdrop of quickly rushing through the backstory to how Hassan came to be in “Europe” after having already landed in the United Kingdom after having sought asylum following the Hindu Muslim riots in Mumbai where he lost his mentor – his mom. 

Back story done with we proceed to how they end up in the rustic French village with an abandoned villa/restaurant up for sale. This is the part where the movie is at its best as Om Puri the patriarch of the Kadam family digs his heels in to battle Madam Mallory played by the indomitable Helen Mirren the owner of the Michelin starred French restaurant.

There is a budding romance between Hassan and sous chef Marguerite which remains entirely unexplored. The culinary clash of the classical French and the boisterous Indian cuisines also is almost entirely forgotten except as an insult that Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam hurl at one another.  The editing and the screenplay leave a lot to be desired. Basing my judgment on a book review of Morais’ original material there seems to be a lot more meat in the book than what is presented on the screen. The episodes in Hassan’s rise to the top of the Parisian culinary world seem to be rather abrupt at best and callous at worst.  Take for instance the turn of events after Hassan earns the second Michelin star at Mallory’s restaurant he simply takes off for Paris because Marguerite says that he will be approached with offers. The despair Hassan feels while plating up pretentious food while in Paris seems unfounded and sudden and the decision to move back just as irrational. The frustration with the movie is because all the ingredients are present to plate up delectable dish that is as pleasing to the palate as it is appealing to the eyes but instead of gently whisking the yolks of the story on a bain-marie to form the perfect sabayon the director, the editor and the writers vigorously whisk it in the direct heat which ends up in a curdled mess. Another concern I have is with the research that has gone into this – Hassan and his family are presented as Muslims and yet the movie commits blasphemy by cooking the lamb in wine without any hesitation. I do not know if this is the lack of research on the part of the original book or another one of the blunders in the screenplay and direction.

There are some genuinely funny moments and some moments that hold promises but eventually what gets plated up is visually enticing but lacking the punch of garam masala and the restraint of the hollandaise. Watch it for a fine turn by Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal and for A.R. Rehman’s enticing background music.Also theres Juhi Chawla as lovely as ever playing Hassan’s mother – why isn’t she in more films is baffling to me. 

Highway – A Review

Imtiaz Ali directs Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda in Highway.  The movie is about a rich privileged daughter of an industrialist Veera played by Alia who gets caught up in a petrol pump robbery and becomes and a hostage as the escaping goons kidnap her and flee as her hapless fiancé looks on and does the “told-you-so” dance!

Having loved Imtiaz’s Jab We Met, missed Love AajKal and having been extremely disappointed by the highly anticipated Rockstar my apprehensions were pretty high with this Stockholm syndrome movie with the relatively unproven Alia Bhatt. All the trademark Imtiaz hallmarks are there – the !ncredible India advert-worthy scenery, A R Rehman music, a perky pretty female lead with a propensity to continually communicate in monologues. While Imtiaz missed the mark with Rockstar, with Highway he delivers what is in my books as close to the bar he set with Jab We Met. Highway has heart and it wears it on its sleeve.

Alia Bhatt who debuted with Student of the year last year was easily stereotyped as the porcelain princess with the entitled star-kid tag. With Highway she smashes that stereotype and comes into her own with a performance that will be making the serious filmmakers of Bollywood sit up and take notice. In scenes that would come off as tacky and highjinks she infuses genuine charm and warmth, her crazy monologues with her going back and forth questioning her sanity come off as endearing and delightful. Even in the high drama scenes she does not miss a beat and with the directing choices that Imtiaz makes with the absence of a background score and focusing solely on Bhatt she delivers what could possibly be the career defining role of her life. Watch out Parineeti there is a new star on the rise here. Randeep Hooda is almost lost in the rugged scenery as he allows for Veera’s insanity to continue unabashed and just is content with looking grim with the demons of his hard life constantly at battles with the genuinely nice-guy-at-heart sentiments.

A R Rehman’s music is unobtrusive and almost unnecessary as for almost the entirety of the movie silence and the howling winds of the Himalayas provide the only symphony required. Anil Mehta experiments a little bit with hand-held camera and the results are not flattering and then he goes back to what he does best – capturing the beautiful vistas of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. Make no mistake this is another love-letter to the beauty of India written by the hands of Imtiaz Ali. Ali also tackles two very sensitive subjects which are intrinsic to what drives the central characters and what demons lurk in the dark recesses of their psyche – kudos to him for executing these with the sensitivity that these subjects deserve.

With a simple story told beautifully this is a must-watch movie. Alia Bhatt blossoms into a full-fledged actress with her full spectrum of emotions on display. Watch it for the climax where in the last 10-15 minutes Alia Bhatt delivers what is possibly one of the best pieces of dramatic acting I have seen from an actress this green. It is spine tingling, the prospect of the potential this lissome lass has and will deliver in her future endeavors. Watch this movie because Imtiaz is forgiven of the sins he committed with Rockstar and I can finally anticipate what comes out of his stables next.

Just a side note – with Rockstar I remember walking into a theatre full to the brim on a Friday morning, but with highway the enthusiasm is clearly lacking with more than half the theatre remaining empty – I wish people would give this little gem of a movie a chance and encourage film makers to take the road less travelled .