Searching for the self we are born to be
I have been meaning to re-watch Imtiaz Ali’s 2015 film Tamasha for a while now. As 2016 comes to an end, I have decided that it is worthwhile to scour around for some inspiration.
When I had watched it for the first time, I didn’t receive Tamasha like a film. It evoked too many thoughts and feelings that I had typed into my phone to keep a record and make sense of later.
In its essence, Tamasha is a love story between the bold and charming Tara, played by Deepika Padukone, and the spontaneous, dramatic Ved, played by Ranbir Kapoor. It is also the story of the restoration and reclaiming of one’s authentic self—a love story between the storyteller that Ved wanted to become and the estranged, robotic product manager that he had resigned himself to becoming when he succumbed to the unimaginative expectations of his father. Tara’s love challenges him and breaks him, almost literally, into pieces. Eventually, he revisits his childhood spaces, to identify both the source of his trauma and the stories that had nourished him.
The reason I didn’t enjoy watching Tamasha as much as I expected to was because it made me uncomfortable. Restless.
Day 1: When I was watching the film, I leaned over to my brother in the second half and said to him that I once had a boyfriend like Ved. He knew that he was in love, he wanted to be with me, but he didn’t have psychic permission to accept it. To love openly and freely.
I knew his inner child and his inner child knew me but his adult would stand between us and say, “No, this is not possible. I love you, I like being with you and talking to you but we can never be together.” Yet he would not really leave. He hung around, without really being with me.
Day 2: The next day, I was travelling. As I got into a car that picked up speed on the expressway, it came to me that Ved is Manu, my brother. Manu, the madcap who has made sober choices that have sobered him. His friends and I often wonder aloud about the crazy, happy persona of Manu, who would laugh and make everyone else laugh with him. Childhood friends remember him as a born storyteller. Does he miss that part of him as much as we do?
Day 3: I met my nephew, Fahad, who had just returned from travelling alone along the Eastern Ghats. I had seen photos and messages from his travels on his mother’s phone. Travelling by train through stark, enchanting landscapes, crossing forests and tribal villages in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, buying and eating raw imli (tamarind) from a roadside vendor. Then I heard his stories. He had been adventurous and curious, he had connected with German tourists, had dinner with a boatman’s family, and been charming and persuasive with the gatekeepers at the Jagannath temple in Puri who stopped him from entering the temple because he looked like a Muslim. He had convinced them to serve him a meal from inside the temple, and relished it sitting outside on the footpath.
In everyday life, Fahad struggles to get along in his workplace, his life entangled in client briefs, contracts and chasing payments. Yet he is this fearless, tireless, imaginative traveller too. As he sipped his tea, I suddenly said to him, “You are Ved.”
Day 4: I woke up and realized that I am Ved too.
In the film, Tamasha, Piyush Mishra plays the role of an elderly storyteller in Shimla, whose narration drifts seamlessly from the scene of Sita being kidnapped from her forest home to that of Helen of Troy trapped in a fortress. Ved, the child, interrupts him to steer him back to the original story.
“So what is your problem?” snaps the storyteller. “A story is a story. In every time and place, it’s the same story that unfolds. In Ayodhya or in Greece, whether it is a story of love or war…even in today’s times, even your own story is the same.”
Ved is many women I know. Meet them when they are at work, or taking a break with friends or on their daily commute—and they laugh heartily, speak articulately and express ambitions, opinions and outrage. Meet them in the company of their partners, grown children or in-laws and they are different people. They will barely make eye contact, their body language will be closed, as if to say, “Go away, I am not that person you met earlier.”
Ved is everyone who has built a fortress around her. She lives in her shell, don’t expect her to come out in an environment that is hostile to her spontaneity. She has the right to protect herself and that’s what she is doing, even as our feminist ideals get wounded at the very sight of what we see as her compromise.
In the film, Ved begins to disintegrate into someone who has no control over his emotions and reactions when his true love demands to meet his authentic self. His armour has been breached and he is in unsafe territory.
“You make me feel so bad,” he says to Tara.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“What do I become in your company? Your negativity transforms me.”
“It’s a phase,” she tries to reason with him.
This conversation is an analogy for so many of life’s transformational milestones. When we are challenged by love, when our marriage needs more of us than we are used to sharing, when we have children and discover that we have inadequate skills and energy to cope, when we choose to take risks in life, quitting jobs, moving homes, deciding to choose a new role at work—we find ourselves vulnerable, and the loss of control often makes us blame the choice for the pain we are feeling. If we can reverse our choices, perhaps we can find comfort again.
My friend, Rohit, got really lucky when he went to watch Tamasha alone, when it was released in cinema halls. As the film ended, Imtiaz Ali walked up in front of the screen to chat with the audience.
“Your films often have protagonists going back to their childhood. They seem haunted by it. The stories are liberating because by the end they find out who they are and find their way. Does it happen in real life too?” Rohit said to him.
“What is your name?” Ali asked him.
“You will find your way, Rohit,” Ali said. “Just keep going back to your childhood.”
In the film, though, Ved doesn’t get polite answers when he goes back to the storyteller of his childhood to ask him how his own story will unfold.
“There is no magic herb, no diamonds, no God here. You coward!” he yells at Ved. “You are asking me to tell you your story? Who are you afraid of? Who is here? You tell me your story. What is in your heart? What do you want?
“Your love is in your own heart and you are searching for her in the wilderness. You cheat, you imposter!”
It’s my own story, Ved realizes after all. I can change the way it ends.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She tweets at @natashabadhwar and posts on Instagram as natashabadhwar. Read Natasha’s Mint Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/natasha-badhwar