'Tamasha': Film Review

TAMASHA still - H 2015
Courtesy of UTV Motion Pictures
A moving meditation on what it means to find out who you really are.

Bollywood's Ranbir Kapoor reunites with writer-director Imtiaz Ali for a sleek urban drama.

Viewers who spot writer-director Imtiaz Ali’s name on the credits of Tamasha (Spectacle) may be tempted to give his latest film a miss, put off by the self-indulgence and scattered focus of his two previous efforts, Rockstar and Highway.

Read more: 'Rockstar': Film Review

But Ali has found his footing as surely as has his protagonist, Ved (Ranbir Kapoor), in this satisfying and emotionally challenging tale of a young New Delhi man struggling to determine which parts of his life are artifice and which are real.

Despite a squarely adult theme — the film raises questions only a viewer with life experience can understand and appreciate, so wiser fans are advised to leave children at home — Tamasha has made a respectable mark at the box office, buoyed by word of mouth and the appeal of Kapoor and his real-life love interest, Deepika Padukone

The word Tamasha can mean a grand show or performance, so when Ved and Tara (Padukone) meet cute, on a sunny restaurant patio while on vacation in Corsica, France, they playfully vow to use only made-up names and to part ways after one week.

They soon return to their normal upscale lives, as planned, but as their fates play out over the years, they come to realize what they’re missing. Tara figures out one clue after another in an attempt to search out Ved and recapture the brief, but real, connection they had.

Read more: 'Bombay Velvet': Film Review

With well-timed flashbacks, Ali depicts why Ved is the straitlaced and slightly dull young professional he appears to be: A dreamy little boy who grows into a gangly teen, failing at engineering and forced by his family and his own conscience into a business career, Ved has maintained a lie so long he doesn’t even know how to be creative anymore. One day, the affable businessman just snaps — destroying his career and falling into a devastating depression.

As with Rockstar, Tamasha’s strength comes from seeing one man strip away layers of artifice to become what he’s fated to be. But what makes this film so much more effective is how Ali depicts Ved’s breaking point and subsequent depression, and how the people around him react to it: his wealthy father, noting that he’s supported Ved through college, observes, “You don’t have any real problems. Why are you creating them?” Anyone who's dealt with depression will know there's no easy answer to that question.

Kapoor is beautifully cast, his trademark mix of assertive theatricality and subtle emotion well suited to the role of a man who seemingly has it all under control, until he doesn’t. The one person who really gets Ved is the woman who met him in Corsica, on that summer day when he was playacting as a mafia boss on the run.

The elegant Padukone mixes playfulness and depth in a performance that ably complements Kapoor’s, as a woman who understands the man behind the mask and whose love and acceptance allow him to become who he was meant to be.

Read more: Indian Director Imtiaz Ali: 'I'm Supposed to Be a Vulgar Sellout'

DP S. Ravi Varman, whose distinctive bright, colorful style made a mark in the Ranbir Kapoor starrer Barfi!, numerous South Indian films and a video by British rapper M.I.A., expresses Ved’s changing sense of reality with distorted, pixelated visuals populated by mythological heroes and villains. Adding to the color are numerous scenes shot on location in Corsica, marking Tamasha as the first Indian film to take advantage of France’s filming incentive program.

The film’s nine songs are placed at organic points in the story, and Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman dips into his familiar bag of rural folk styles and lush orchestrations to craft winning songs and inspiring incidental music.

Production companies: UTV Motion Pictures, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone

Director-screenwriter: Imtiaz Ali

Producer: Sajid Nadiadwala

Executive producer: Rajesh Sharma

Director of photography: S. Ravi Varman

Production designers: Sumit Basu, Snigdha Basu, Rajnish Hedao

Costume designers: Aki Narula, Anaita Shroff Adajania

Choreographers: Ashley Lobo, Bosco Martis, Caesar Gonsalves

Editor: Aarti Bajaj

Music: A.R. Rahman

In Hindi

No rating, 155 minutes